How low will Republicans go to try and hang onto control of Ohio, the swing state where their machinations secured the presidency for George W. Bush in 2004?
Lower than reasonable Americans, no matter what their partisanship, no matter what their ideology, could imagine.
Gary Lankford, the Ohio Republican Party's recently hired "social conservative coordinator" this week dispatched a mass e-mail to so-called "pro-family friends" that featured his 10-point introduction to U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, the Democratic nominee for governor.
Strickland, an ordained Methodist minister who has thrown Republicans for a loop by speaking about his faith during the campaign, is running far ahead of scandal-plagued Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, the Republican nominee who gained national fame in 2004 when he was broadly accused of manipulating election processes and vote counting to favor Bush in the presidential race.
What's the GOP strategy for getting Blackwell back into the running? Imply that Strickland is gay.
What are Republican staffers pointing to as evidence? Reports that the Democratic congressman and his wife of 20 years reside in different locations when he is in Washington.
In his email, Lankford, the GOP "social conservative coordinator," links to an Internet posting by a conservative operative that is headlined: "Article Adds Fire to Strickland Gay Rumors." The posting suggests that a mid-June Toledo Blade newspaper article implies "the Stricklands are both gay."
The article turns out to be a wide-ranging Father's Day feature on Strickland and Blackwell, in which mention was made of the fact that Strickland and his wife have no children. Blackwell was quoted as saying that it would be absurd to try and make an issue of whether the Democrat was a father or not. "Some of my most adored, most respected leaders are not parents," said the Republican. "Pope John Paul II was not a parent."
But Strickland, who is supported by gay and lesbian groups in the state and has criticized legislative assaults on gay rights, noted the frustration of Republicans with the Democrat's ability to match them on moral values issues and suggested that he might well be attacked. "The most effective way to campaign now is to identify your opponent's strengths and try to destroy those strengths," Strickland warned.
It looks like the Republican Party in Ohio has decided to jettison the "some of my most adored, most respected leaders are not parents" line in favor of an aggressive "Strickland's gay" assault on the Democrat's "moral values" appeal.
Indeed, Lankford's email, which highlighted his Republican Party role, urged recipients to: "Pass this information along."
When the "information" got passed along to the media, Ohio Republican Party political director Jason Mauk said the party repudiated the email. "We do not engage in rumor or innuendo," said Mauk, "especially rumors that are not relevant to this election."
John Nichols, The Nation's Washington correspondent, has covered progressive politics and activism in the United States and abroad for more than a decade. He is currently the editor of the editorial page of Madison, Wisconsin's Capital Times. Nichols is the author of two books: It's the Media, Stupid and Jews for Buchanan.
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