Michelle Bachman is the GOP nominee for the open Crongressional seat in Minnesota's 6th Congressional District. (Volunteer via the web site here; donate here.) The district leans Republican and was held by Mark Kennedy --now the GOP's nominee for the United States Senate-- against a stiff challenge from Patty Wetterling two years ago. Kennedy polled 30,000 more votes than Wetterling out of cast 377,000. In the off-year contest of 2002, Kennedy trounced his DFL opponent by 64,000, with an Independent candidate also polling 21,000+ votes.
Kennedy was outspent in 2002 by more than $300,000. Two years ago Kennedy spent about $700,000 more than Wetterling.
Clearly Wetterling brings both strengths and weaknesses to the race. The strength is in her bio, described by the Almanac of American Politics as "a former math teacher and soccer mom and a political newcomer who raised nearly $2 million [in 2004] based on her previous activity as a national advocate for missing children, including creation of the Wetterling Foundation; her 11-year-old son Jacob was abducted in 1989 and was never found." The weakness is the same for any candidate who has already been beaten soundly once: It is difficult to persuade voters to reverse a decision they have already rendered. Plus, the Democratic turn-out operation is simply far behind that of the Tim Paelnty-led GOP.
To have beaten Bachman would have required a near perfect race from Wetterling, but she has stumbled repeatedly, and most recently by an embrace of advertising tactics that leave even veteran media critics condeming her approach. Wetterling grabbed for the Foley gold ring and found out too late that deception is ruinous in the internet age.
Foley resigned on Friday. On Tuesday Wetterling released a campaign ad that included this flatly fraudulent charge:
“It shocks the conscience. Congressional leaders have admitted to covering up the predatory behavior of a congressman who used the internet to molest children.”
When I read this excerpt of the ad to Howard Kurtz, media critic for the Washington Post, I asked him if it was fair:
No. Clearly, they haven't admitted to any such thing. There are conflicting explanations about who knew what when among House Republican leaders, and I certainly think that reporters should continue to ask questions about that. But to say in an ad, even given this sort of license of political rhetoric that candidates take upon themselves that House Republican leaders have admitted to covering up predatory practices? No...
Then I asked him if the Wetterling ad was false. "Based on what you've just read me," Kurtz opined, "that sounds like a real factual exaggeration."
What's the obligation of media vis-a-vis false and deceptive ads like Wetterling's? Kurtz responded in relevant part:
Maybe some people think it's fair. I don't, from what you've read me. But the Minneapolis paper in particular, or the Minnesota papers, because it's their local races, local race, excuse me, has an absolute obligation to report to its readers on whether or not that ad, and any ad put up by her opponents as well, are fair and accurate, exaggerated, or outright distortions.
Because the Minneapolis Star Tribune long ago gave up any pretense of being a serious newspaper, that won't happen. But new media is already at work laying out for 6th District voters the Wetterling deception. Ed Morrissey led the way, and others have followed, including Dean Barnett blogging over at HughHewitt.com, and Jim Geraghty, who wondered why "somehow, the very first ad from the Democrats that addresses this issue feels a need to... well, lie. To stretch the charges beyond anything resembling the facts as we know them."
Why, indeed? Two explanations, which are not exclusive.
The first and most likely is that Wetterling's numbers are bad and getting worse and absentees will be arriving soon. So she swung for the fences and hoped to get a free ride on an outrageous lie. But a free pass from the Strib doesn't get you even a bus token anymore.
Second, the new Democrats from the fever swamp cannot tell the difference between outrageous lies and campaign puffery. Moore's Disease long ago addled their perception of reality, and why not go for the low blow even if it is a bold and undeniable lie? Kos will applaud (and, predictably, did, as Dr. Lamontenstein again proves his strategic worth to the Dems.)
Whichever of the two explanations, or both, it doesn't matter. The Michelle Bachman campaign gets a lift from what might otherwise have been a modest bit of momentum for a struggling Wetterling. And probably more than a small lift as GOP contributors see an opportunity to reply to a crystal clear example of the politics of the unhinged left manifesting themselves in the campaign of a previously respectable (and even sympathetic) candidate.
Thus while Foley's reprehensible behavior may have cost the GOP a safe seat, Demcoratic dirty tricks in response have shored up one for the GOP that the left had hoped to take away.