In an election year that was supposed to be about the economy, here we are talking about eating dogs and cookies from 7-Eleven.
Not to mention Ted Nugent, dressage horses and car elevators.
Presidential politics has always had a flair for quirky detours, like John Edwards's $400 haircut and Michael Dukakis's army helmet. But the 2012 campaigns are pushing the sideshows so far onto the main stage that they've emerged into a quasi-campaign of their own, running alongside the serious debate about taxes, spending and jobs.
Who, for instance, would think that at a time of staggering unemployment, the White House would be fielding questions about Barack Obama eating dog meat when he was a child in Indonesia? That's a storyline that the Romney campaign has been pushing after a report in the Daily Caller, a right-wing news outlet, quoted a passage from Obama's book in which he talks about eating "tough" canine meat.
The revelation was retaliation against Democrats, who called Mitt Romney inhumane for putting his family's dog on the top of his car on a drive to Canada.
Eric "Etch A Sketch" Fehrnstrom, a Romney adviser, used the Daily Caller report to say in a Twitter message that a picture of Obama and his dog Bo was "in hindsight, a chilling photo" — an image posted in January by Obama adviser David Axelrod, who captioned it with a barely veiled reference to Romney's dog Seamus: "How loving owners transport their dogs."
John McCain linked to a picture of his son's bulldog on Twitter and said, "I'm sorry, Mr. President, he's not on the menu!" Rush Limbaugh said on his radio show that the dog-eating story makes him "extremely uncomfortable" but that "it's got to be discussed."
And yesterday, White House press secretary Jay Carney had to answer a question about it. He said Obama was six or seven and that "making a big deal out of it sounds like somebody who's trying to get out of the doghouse on something."
Even Newt Gingrich, whose campaign once made an ad about Seamus, said the dog stuff is "utterly stupid." Newt Gingrich!
"The political people think that there's something to be gained by that," said Harvey Rosen, the chairman in 2005 of the White House Council of Economic Advisers. "I totally understand why it's happening, and I'm not shocked."
In case you're wondering, the dog days have had little to nothing to do with what voters apparently say is the issue most important to them: the economy.
To be clear, the candidates have talked about that, too. Obama has been making the rounds talking about his "Buffett rule" that would raise taxes on the rich. Romney said this week that nearly nothing Obama has done has created jobs. Both of them have emphasized jobs while on the stump in a handful of swing states.
"Right now, we have two competing visions of our future, and the choice could not be clearer," Obama said at a community college in Ohio.
"If you want to know where his vision leads, open your eyes, because we've been living it for the last three years," Romney countered.
In case you were busy opening your eyes to Realer News, Romney inadvertently irked a baked goods shop near a campaign stop this week by remarking that its cookies appeared as if they came from 7-Eleven. The bakery labeled the mishap "CookieGate" and says its business has boomed since.