Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Reed's slime trail

From political consultant to candidate, not exactly a smooth transition for Ralph Reed:
Not long after leaving the Christian Coalition for the secular world of electoral politics, Ralph Reed bemoaned the dark side of his new career.

"One of the things I'm rapidly discovering about this business is that you rarely have a guy who doesn't have any problems," Reed said in 1998, just before the first clients he served as a campaign consultant stood for election. "I'm still looking for Mr. Clean Jeans."

Eight years later, as Reed runs for lieutenant governor of Georgia, his critics suggest that he, too, has been splattered by political mud.

His opponent for the Republican nomination, state Sen. Casey Cagle, tried to turn Reed's political consulting into a campaign issue last weekend when he offered a surprising reason for donating $1,000 to Democratic Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor's 1998 campaign: atonement for Reed's malevolent tactics on behalf of one of his earliest clients, Taylor's Republican opponent. Cagle describes Reed's style as "slash and burn, threaten and smear, attack and lie."

Reed denies authorizing or using dirty campaign tactics and says that he doesn't approve of them. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution examination of his consulting work — including interviews with his rivals and colleagues and a review of court files and other documents — revealed no evidence that contradicted Reed's denials.

Still, a common thread connects many of the campaigns Reed has advised:

From slow-motion footage of Taylor shaking hands with Atlanta's "black" mayor, as the ad's script pointed out despite the fact it was self-evident, to a picture of a black opponent dissolving into shots of jail cells and used hypodermic needles, to a whisper campaign accusing Arizona Sen. John McCain of fathering an "illegitimate" black child, Reed's clients or their supporters relied on negative racial imagery and other tactics that reflect a style of campaigning that, while not unique, was especially rough.

Critics point to the similarity in strategies used by so many of Reed's clients and question how he couldn't know what they were doing.

"He's a total hypocrite," said Roy Fletcher, a Baton Rouge, La., political consultant who worked for McCain's presidential campaign in 2000. "There's no question about it. The fingerprint is there."
You can read the whole thing. Let me make two separate and distinct points:

1. Reed's entire adult life has been spent in GOP politics, in contrast to Cagle, who was a businessman before taking an interest in politics. That accounts a lot for the differences between them.

2. Reed's alleged use of race issues in Georgia and South Carolina campaigns is troubling, but par for the course, considering Reed's background.

My friend Jeff Quinton used to be a GOP campaign operative in South Carolina, and Jeff tells me that there is nothing dirtier than a South Carolina Republican primary. Push-polling and other dirty tricks are standard operating procedure. Thus, one gets tired of the incessant whining from John McCain's supporters about the "love child" rumors spread by his opponents in the 2000 GOP S.C. primary. The national media, if they cared to investigate, would discover that those sorts of tactics are routine in South Carolina primary politics.

Yet the media and McCain's supporters continue to pretend that the "love child" rumor was solely responsible for John McCain's 2000 defeat in South Carolina. That's a lie. McCain was out-organized and out-campaigned by Bush in the state. Bush's people had the state wired from the beginning, and McCain performed badly in the one big televised debate.

-- McCAIN

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