Bob Etheridge Runs into Reporter, then Runs Into Trouble

Jillian Bandes

7/6/2010 12:01:00 AM - Jillian Bandes

Democratic Congressman Bob Etheridge’s campaign was running along just fine until he roughed up a reporter on the streets of Washington, D.C. Now, his re-election looks dimmer as Republican Renee Ellmers capitalizes on the backlash.

The reporter — who identified himself as a student, but did not give his name — approached Etheridge in mid-June and asked the Congressman if he fully supported the Obama agenda. Etheridge responded by grabbing the reporter by arm and neck, and repeatedly yelling in his face. The video has since received almost 3 million YouTube hits.

Ellmers hadn’t been considered a competitive candidate until the video went viral, but several days later, a SurveyUSA poll put her one point ahead of Etheridge, despite a campaign that had raised $72,000 to his $730,000. New fundraising numbers come out this week, and Ellmers says she’s looking forward to them.

“The video gave us a big boost, because the it gave us name recognition all over the country from people who sent us $10, and $15, saying, ‘please make a change,’” said Ellmers, a 46-year-old nurse who works with her husband, a surgeon. “But we’re still on the same path we were on before, which is meeting the people of the Second District, and try to get as much fundraising in as we possibly can.”

The 38-39 percent split in the SurveyUSA poll shouldn’t be taken as campaign gold, say observers, because it’s still too early to predict how long the boost will last. And some of Ellmers’ supporters say they’re banking on the Ellmers intrinsic appeal rather than some frou-frou video put out by a college videographer.

“You’ve got a very well rounded person [in Ellmers]. You’ve got someone who is a mom, a wife, someone who is involved in the local community, she’s very well spoken, she’s got a medical background,” said Patty Fitzgerald, a longtime resident of District 2 who is volunteering with Ellmers’ campaign. “I really don’t think that the video had a lot to do with it.”

Whatever the case, Ellmers is on a roll, playing up her medical experience in response to a strong local reaction to the health care bill, which Etheridge voted for. He also voted with Pelosi on 97% of all other issues that came before him during the last of his 7 terms in office. Ellmers is tapping into local tea party activists, who are keen on cultivating the anti-incumbant mood in the second District. Those activists are sensitive about what they’re called, however.

“There’s a little group of us here, I’ll call it a town hall meeting, but Nancy Pelosi would probably call it something else,” said Joe Taylor, of Zebulon, NC. “We’re pretty active, and we saw that Renee poppped up on the screen and that she was going to be running against Etherige.”

Taylor says he likes her for three reasons.

“Number one, she’s not a politician. Number two, she’s not a lawyer. Number three, she was someone who is concerned about the direction of this country. She’s a worker bee like everyone else, and she and her husband had their own business, and thats what she did,” said Taylor. He contrasts that with Etheridge, who has painted himself as grossly out-of-touch with North Carolina’s small-town values.

“Etheridge needs to go. It has nothing to do with trying to choke [a reporter. Bob has turned into a mouthpiece for Pelosi, Reid and Obama,” said Taylor. “When you look at his territory — Johnson county? Eastern Wake county? When you see his constituency, and look at his voting record, he’s forgotten what he’s supposed to be doing.”