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It seems TPMs overnight

It seems TPM's overnight post on the South Dakota Senate race really drew some blood. Here below you'll find the brand new press release from John Thune spokesperson Christine Iverson, or as we call her missives here at TPM, postcards from the edge.

Definitely note the attack on the "little read liberal-Washington D.C. website written by a graduate student at Brown University." (If it's so 'little read' why go to the trouble of attacking the story in a press release? Is the Thune Senate campaign getting knocked on its heels by a weblog?)

Subject: Johnson Intimidates SD Press into Stopping Voter Fraud Coverage Date: Fri, 18 Oct 2002 11:45:30 -0500

As regular Talking Points

As regular Talking Points readers know, the South Dakota Senate race has recently been roiled by charges of absentee ballot fraud in and around Indian reservations in the state. To date, an independent contractor working for the Democratic party-organized state "coordinated campaign" was fired by the state party when it was found that she likely forged two absentee ballot applications. The state party then reported the matter to the local US Attorney. (The woman in question defends herself here.) Separately, two brothers working for the Native American Education and Voter Registration Project -- a group unaffiliated with the Democratic party -- have also been accused -- seemingly with good reason -- of trying to register a number of persons without their knowledge.

Bad things, to be sure. And today the state's major paper, The Argus Leader, ran an editorial saying -- not unreasonably -- that voter fraud can never be tolerated.

As one might expect in such cases, the story has gotten the treatment in a palpably tendentious column by John Fund on the Wall Street Journal editorial page. But what of the claims of massive vote fraud? Let's look a bit deeper.

It turns out that the most aggressive reporting of this story -- picked up in Drudge and other places -- has come from Sioux Falls's KSFY TV, the local ABC affiliate. And the station turns out to have some rather interesting connections to the John Thune campaign.

John Thune's campaign spokesperson Christine Iverson is a former reporter for KSFY.

John Thune's Washington, DC spokesperson Jennifer Hayes is also a former reporter for KSFY.

KSFY News Anchor Mitch Krebs was scheduled to moderate this Monday's League of Women Voters debate between Tim Johnson and John Thune. That is, he was until the South Dakota League of Women Voters found out that Krebs was the emcee at a September 17th fundraiser for the Minnehaha County (where Sioux Falls is located) Republican Party and the John Thune for Senate Campaign, featuring Mary Matalin.

The LWV has now asked KSFY to withdraw Krebs from the debate. And the station has agreed. Krebs has also, according to TPM sources, been pulled from the vote fraud story altogether. When asked for confirmation that Krebs had been pulled from the story, KSFY news director Neal Bennett told TPM it was a "KSFY internal matter."

Now it's long been TPM's view that misfiled or improperly filled out voter registration cards or absentee ballot applications can be whipped up into charges of voter fraud and often for nefarious purposes. What seems to us like an interesting example of this came on KSFY's Tuesday evening newscast with a piece from reporter Shelley Keohane.

First a little backstory, which will take a moment to explain, but bear with me ...

Both parties around the country routinely do absentee ballot application drives and process them with local voter registrars in quantity. In fact, on balance, Republicans tend to do an even better job of this than Democrats.

Not long ago Zeibach County Auditor Cindy Logbreak got approximately ninety absentee ballot applications bundled and sent out from the Democratic party. One of those was for a Eunice Taylor whose address listed her in another county, Roberts County. It turns out that there's another Eunice Taylor who lives in Zeibach County. So, point being, there are two Eunice Taylors. Still with me? Good. There's a bit more.

So how did the absentee ballot for Roberts County end up in Zeibach County? It appears that the first Eunice Taylor who filled out an absentee ballot registration form actually wasn't currently registered to vote. The normal procedure in this case would be for the county auditor to send the applicant a registration form and have them fill it out and resubmit their absentee ballot application. In this case, however, when some flunky at Democratic party headquarters was putting these absentee ballot applications in different piles to send to different counties he or she looked on a voting list and found "Eunice Taylor" in Zeibach county and sent it there.

So the application got sent to the wrong county.

So just to recap: we have a voter who filed an absentee ballot request but who apparently wasn't registered yet. She would have either subsequently registered or her vote simply wouldn't have been counted. A mistake was made and the form was sent to the wrong county. There's no way this vote could ever have gotten counted in this other county since it has an address in another part of the state. South Dakota law says such a misaddressed ballot should simply be forwarded back to the original county.

Still with me? Good. We're almost to the good part.

Enter Shelley Keohane who trooped out to Zeibach county and tracked down Eunice Taylor for part of her Tuesday night report on the burgeoning voter fraud case. Here's part of the transcript in which Keohane interviews Taylor -- i.e., not the one who filed the application -- in running guffaw mode, walking her through what seems to be an obviously falsified ballot application ...

Keohane: Eunice Taylor also sent in an application saying she would be absent from the county on election day. [But] so far she's got no plans for November 5th. Where do you plan to be on Election Day?

Eunice Taylor: In Dupree [i.e., in her hometown.]

Keohane: There are other problems with Taylor's application.

Eunice Taylor: Everything's wrong (laughter) that's not my signature or anything, or my address.

Keohane: In addition this Eunice Taylor lives in Dupree and says she never sent in an application ... I did get in touch with a Eunice Taylor at the number on the application but Roberts County doesn't have a Eunice Taylor registered. Just Ziebach County.

At the end Keohane says she got in touch with the other Eunice Taylor. What she fails to mention is that that afternoon, before this segment was produced, she had interviewed the other Eunice Taylor and that Eunice Taylor told her that she had in fact filled out and signed the application.

So what exactly was the point of interviewing this other woman and having her say the signature on the document wasn't hers? Right. No reason other than to create the misleading impression that this was a fraudulent ballot rather than one that had simply been sent to the wrong county auditor. The next day the competitor station KELO -- the largest in the market -- did a more thorough and one might say more honest job of reporting this out and made all this clear.

And there's more.

Where did Shelley Keohane get the documents which helped her put together the Eunice Taylor stunt? After questions about Keohane's report were first raised, this post appeared on the KSFY website saying that she got them from "a personal friend who volunteers for John Thune's campaign."

It turns out, according to TPM's sources, that the 'personal friend' was a Sioux Falls lawyer named Jon K. Lauck, who happens to be the Chairman of Lawyers for Thune Committee. Lauck's bio at the Republican National Lawyers Association website says he is "currently chairman of the Lawyers for Thune Committee and deeply involved the nation's most-watched Senate race."

And, surprisingly, there's even more.

It turns out that Jon Lauck and Shelley Keohane live at the same address in Sioux Falls.

On Thursday, after these various facts came to light, Shelley Keohane too was pulled off the voter fraud story by KSFY. We reached KSFY news director Neal Bennett Thursday evening to ask if he could confirm that Keohane had gotten yanked from the story. He declined to confirm or deny that Keohane had been pulled from the story citing it as a "KSFY internal matter."

Is the Thune campaign

Is the Thune campaign in South Dakota whipping up these allegations of absentee ballot vote fraud to suppress voter turnout on the state's Indian reservations and in other counties? Are they spoon-feeding this stuff to pliant members of the press?

There's more coming along these lines...

I got an email

I got an email yesterday from a regular reader who's a Republican staffer on Capitol Hill, telling me that my run-down of Senate races yesterday was wildly biased in favor of the Democrats. It didn't point out for instance that in Missouri -- state of TPM's birth, as it turns out -- Jean Carnahan seems to be fading in the stretch. That's a race that I think most Dems thought they'd pull out. And though it's far from over, it's suddenly started looking very uphill. My choices of which races to mention were based on which ones had results which struck me as noteworthy. Still, it was a legitimate criticism.

Having said that, though, I feel even more confident today than I did yesterday of the overall premise of the post: that things are looking up for the Democrats.

I'd point to four races. The first and most obvious is New Jersey. Clearly, Doug Forrester is toast. Put a fork in 'em. Put a metaphor in 'em. Whatever. He's gone. Buhh-bye...

In the few short weeks since the Democrats switched candidates Forrester has gone from a dozen points up to a dozen points down -- a rather dizzying descent. If that weren't enough, reporters have now unearthed a sheaf of old newspaper columns Forrester wrote for the now-defunct and previously minuscule West Windsor-Plainsboro Chronicle about a decade ago. Those columns include -- among other things -- his earlier opposition to such radical legislation as those bans on assault weapons which never fail to inflame the gun-crazy denizens of Montclair and Wyckoff. In truth, the discovery of the long-forgotten newspaper columns is almost a cliche, a set piece of the modern political campaign drama. And such an unearthing usually signifies the start of the final death spiral of the sputtering goof who wrote them. If the Jersey Senate campaign were a work of low-rent magical realist fiction -- though I guess that's not really such a far-fetched proposition -- this would be the moment when a big black raven alighted on Forrester's left shoulder and started cackling ominously or maybe warbling Beelzebub in bird language.

Anyway, point being, he's gone. And that puts one seat safely back in the Democratic column.

The other three races are Wellstone in Minnesota, Shaheen in New Hampshire and Bowles in North Carolina. Lots of people were really starting to think Wellstone wasn't going to pull it out. Now it seems like he probably will, though it's still very touch-and-go. I'd figured Shaheen was going to lose but now she seems marginally ahead. And, again, Bowles is making a serious run Liddy Dole.

There are other states where Dems are getting serious challenges: Georgia, for instance, and more about that later. But those three races give me the feeling that the Democrats are back in the hunt for expanding their majority, if only very slightly.

One of the most

One of the most important and least discussed issues in Washington today -- in America today, really -- is the profound divide which has opened up between the Pentagon brass and the civilian political appointees who run the Department of Defense. I've written about it before. Here's another very good article about it in today's Washington Post. Also, in today's Post, a fun article on what could turn out to be the big story of the 2002 election cycle: the Florida Governor's race. Bill McBride clearly has the momentum and he's pulled within a very few points of the stealthily-sleazy Jeb Bush.

After a slew of

After a slew of bad news the latest round of polls point to optimism for Democratic chances in the Senate. Charlie Cook's new report out this morning says that Erskine Bowles is advancing on Liddy Dole in North Carolina -- a race most folks had pretty much written off. Jeanne Shaheen has also pulled even or marginally ahead in New Hampshire -- a race which looked close but definitely leaning toward John Sununu.

The latest round of Zogby polls also look positive for Dems. Zogby's latest has Paul Wellstone up 46-37 over Norm Coleman. And Jeb Bush is now in a statistical dead-heat with Bill McBride -- a result that's in line with other campaign tracking polls. (I wonder if Jeb gets forced into a really tight contest down the stretch whether Florida papers may take a renewed interest in the guy's business past, which is ugly as sin. He makes his brother look like a character out of a Horatio Alger novel.)

Less positively for Democrats Zogby now has John Thune up by two points over Tim Johnson in South Dakota. That race is still basically a tie. But there does seem to have been a very small tick back in Thune's direction.

The thing one hears about Zogby though is that his state by state statistical models aren't nearly as good as his national one. (He didn't do well at all calling Hillary/Lazio in 2000). So the Zogby polls may merit a measure of skepticism all around.

Just what I hear.

Those who whined most

Those who whined most heartily about the Montana Democratic Party's ad targeting state Senator Mike Taylor are now hyping a story about alleged absentee voting irregularities in neighboring South Dakota.

Don't get snookered by this one.

The story first got picked up by local TV news reporter Jill Westbrook as a case of "massive voter registration fraud." That was followed by a piece in the Rapid City Journal which again ran with the "massive" voter fraud line.

That was, predictably, picked up by Fox News. And finally there was a pretty decent story written about it in the Argus Leader. David Kranz of the Argus Leader is sort of the Jack Germond or Dan Balz of South Dakota politics, from what I can tell.

Read the actual stories and you'll see the alleged fraud falls quite a bit short of 'massive'. The alleged fraud apparently involves a single contract employee working in a Democratic party voter registration drive. The woman in question registered a slew of voters and virtually all of those registrations checked out when later examined. The exact number of ones with problems is unclear from the articles but it seems to be a handful out of many at best. Perhaps as few as two. The Democratic party fired her.

Look at the article and you'll also notice virtually all the quotes are from the Republican state Attorney General Mark Barnett who called a press conference to discuss the matter, was apparently the source of the original "massive" voter fraud claim, and apparently can't stop talking to every reporter in the state about it. Though the investigation only involves this one woman, Barnett is quick to tell virtually everyone that "that could change at any time."

Clearly something like this should be investigated. And lawbreakers should be prosecuted. And I don't mean that as a throwaway line. They should. But the story here is that there are two very hotly contested races in the state -- one being the Senate race between Tim Johnson and John Thune. Democrats have been making a big push to register the Indian population in the state which tends to vote heavily Democratic but is under-registered and tends to vote in very low percentages. Those votes could prove crucial. The fraud claims are about the voter registration push on the Indian reservations.

Republicans frequently charge that voter registration drives are hotbeds of voter-fraud -- almost never with any real evidence. Absent more evidence of anything really widespread, this looks to me like a Republican effort to snuff out or throw a wet blanket over the Democrats' effort to register a lot of new voters. They have a long history of this.

I discuss my thoughts

I discuss my thoughts on the Mike Taylor ad run by the Montana Democratic party below. But before Republicans get too self-righteous about that ad, take a look at this one that Republican challenger Saxby Chambliss is running against Democrat Max Cleland in Georgia. The ad luridly hacks away at Cleland for being soft on defending America and says Cleland is lying when he says he has the "courage to lead" and defend the United States.

You may remember that Cleland lost three limbs on the battlefield while serving as an Army Captain in Vietnam in 1969. (The washed-out black and white images of Cleland in the ad are conveniently cropped around the face and upper body so as not to show any signs that Cleland is a triple-amputee.) Saxby Chambliss's House website bio contains no mention of any military service.

Lower than low.

Im still trying to

I'm still trying to assemble my thoughts about the now notorious Mike Taylor ad run by the Montana Democratic party. On balance, I just don't think Taylor has as much ground for complaint as he seems to think he does. Part of this may be the fact that before I ever saw the ad I had read a number of reports decrying it as blatantly gay-baiting. So I was expecting to be really outraged. When I actually saw it I was expecting some zinger that never quite came.

Two points that are worth mentioning: No one who criticizes the ad seems to note that the creators of the ad have Taylor dead-to-rights on the fact that his hair-care school was apparently a scam. That gives at least some hook for the commercial to get into the whole hair-care school issue. Point two is that this was an infomercial that Taylor himself produced. It's a bit hard to get past that. How offensive can it be to him to show it if he himself produced it for public consumption?

I certainly don't mean to be willfully dense. And I'm not saying I'm crazy about the ad. It's just that when I saw the ad I felt it went right up to the line but never quite crossed it.

One point that comes close is the final tagline which, after going into the hair-care scam, finishes off with: "Not the way we do business here in Montana." After you're primed to get the gay references this can, I grant you, sort of read like "Not the way we *#$% each other in Montana." On the other hand, I showed the ad to one friend today who hadn't heard anything about the controversy and she didn't pick up the gay-baiting angle at all.

In some ways the real keys are more the music and the the font and graphics of his name used at the top of the ad. They're clearly right out of Boogie Nights or an Austin Powers flick. In a sense, the ad is less guilty of gay-baiting than Boogie-Nights-1970s-Cheesedom-baiting.

One thing that is very clear is that this ad was not why Taylor got out of the race. He was just losing and this was a way to leave on a note of righteous indignation. I think that's unquestionably true, though one can certainly believe that and believe that the ad gay-baited and thus believe that his righteous indignation was justified.

Interestingly in this October 4th article Taylor said it was outrageous for the Democrats even to bring up the charges about the improper use of federal money at the school. This was before any mention was made of the TV ad. And it's very hard to see where discussing Taylor's misuse of federal education money was somehow a low blow.

Another point. A number of people wrote in yesterday arguing that this development proved that I was wrong in believing the Torricelli drop-out would be a one time thing. Seemingly everybody was going to do it and Marc Racicot, former Governor of Montana, was going to jump into the race. Frankly, had this happened, I wouldn't have seen any problem with it, even though it would have made Max Baucus's (the Democratic incumbent) race harder. As I said earlier with regards to New Jersey, so long as there is some give in the legal procedures for late ballot changes I'd say make the call in favor of giving voters the best shot at a real vote.

Actually, though, this has turned out to be a pretty good example of why the Torricelli switch phenomenon won't become that common. It now looks like Racicot won't get in the race after all. And the reason is pretty clear. If he'd wanted to run for Senate, he'd have gotten in the race a year ago when he actually would have had a pretty decent shot at knocking Baucus out. He didn't get in then because he didn't want to do it or didn't have the gumption or whatever. And he still doesn't. Additionally, now he'd face the added hurdles of being accused of just being a last minute opportunist and so forth. The bottom line is that there are just a lot of forces weighted against the whole last minute switch phenomenon.

I was ready to

I was ready to slam this attack ad that Montana Democrats ran against Montana's Republican Senate candidate Mike Taylor. But I became a bit more equivocal when I actually saw it. TPM has acquired a downloadable version of the spot now included in the TPM Document Collection. Click here to view or download your own copy and see for yourself.

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