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Theres a dictum in

There's a dictum in politics: when your opponent's going down the tubes on his own, stand back, look high-minded, and watch him swirl. Which brings us to the South Dakota Senate race. In Monday night's debate, challenger John Thune fell over himself charging -- loosely, in the form of questions -- that Tim Johnson was personally involved in orchestrating voter fraud in the western part of the state. Thus Thune ...

You hold a press conference and tell the people of South Dakota - come clean about what your involvement is with voter fraud in western South Dakota. I think the people of South Dakota need to know what the facts are. Who authorized this putting a bounty on voters? Who did you hire? Who was involved?
This tells you something pretty clearly. If the fraud issue were pulling Johnson down of its own weight, the logical move would be to avoid such extravagant charges. Since it's not, he's not avoiding them. Rather, he's pushing them as hard as he can, trying to win the campaign on this issue alone.

Today, Johnson called for both campaigns to forswear any and all negative ads for the remaining two weeks before election day. This is a pretty transparent tactic, since Thune needs to go negative much more than Johnson does right now, and has something -- baseless or not -- to go negative with. Still, a transparent tactic isn't always a bad one.

In turn, Thune's spokesperson, Christine Iverson responded with a classic 'when did you stop beating your wife' rejoinder.

Thus Christine ...

Today, we ask Tim Johnson to release the following information: all correspondence and E-mail between his campaign and the South Dakota Democrat Party; all cell and phone records between the Johnson campaign and the South Dakota Democrat Party; all records of meetings between the Johnson campaign and the South Dakota Democrat Party; and all financial transactions between the Johnson campaign and the South Dakota Democrat Party related to the voter fraud investigation, people currently under investigation and those indicted. There is more to running a clean campaign than running positive ads. A clean campaign includes preserving the integrity of the election system. If the Johnson campaign has nothing to hide they will have no problem releasing information about their work with the state party on voter registration efforts. Together, we can give the people of South Dakota a positive campaign, both on the airwaves and in the ballot booth on Election Day.
Note the puerile use of 'Democrat party' in place of the correct usage, 'Democratic party.' Iverson has developed quite a rep in recent months for bullying and slashing behavior on the campaign trail and she seems inclined to go out with a flourish.

Why precisely do I

Why precisely do I read Andrew Sullivan's website? I'm not sure. Much of the stuff I find either wrongheaded or offensive or stridently badgering toward people who don't deserve badgering. And yet I read it. In fact, it's one of the only blogs I read regularly or even read at all. Tonight or this morning -- take your pick -- I noticed his post on the prison amnesty in Iraq. And I think Andrew's on to something. Clearly, this amnesty has been promulgated for the most cynical of reasons, for a mix of domestic and foreign propaganda. But this is the most repressive of regimes. And repressive regimes tend to function like ratchets. To survive they can stand in place or become more repressive. But it's very difficult for them to become less so. Reeling back political repression is a tough, often an impossible, proposition, as we saw in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union a dozen or more years ago. And there's some small chance we could be beginning to see the first signs of something like that in Iraq. What's happening right now -- and the way a few are interpreting it -- reminds me of something I was once told by the guy I regard as one of the shrewdest and most knowledgeable people in Washington when it comes to Iraq and US policy thereto. I can't say who it is other than to say he's ex-military. But here's the way he once described the Iraqi regime to me: "The physical analogy to Saddam Hussein's regime is a steel beam in compression. This is an extremely repressive regime. Even to say those words doesn't do it justice. When it breaks … it'll give off absolutely no sign at all that it's about to fail … And then ka-wammo! And it just goes crazy. That what's gonna happen here." That really could happen here, and possibly, just possibly, without a single American shot ever being fired.

Is it just my

Is it just my imagination or when Bill Kristol read this quote from the President, didn't he pretty much have to press his hands to his temples and shake his head disconsolately?

If [Saddam] were to meet all the conditions of the United Nations, the conditions that I've described very clearly in terms that everybody can understand, that in itself will signal the regime has changed ...
Whatever Kristol did, I couldn't help laughing. And perhaps that says something about my not getting out quite often enough that I would find this so amusing. But, honestly, this is about thirty-times more audacious a massaging of the English language than that little number the former president pulled about what the meaning of 'is' is.

If the regime will just change then you don't have to change the regime. And if the regime changes isn't that regime change? So what's the problem?

I've rolled this one over in my head a few times and as nearly as I can figure the key is that the president prized apart the words in that wonderful phrase and took 'regime' which was supposed to be the object of the verb 'change,' as in 'change the regime' and made it the subject, as in 'the regime changes.' That is to say, the 'regime' was mean and now it's nice. I grant you, this grammar and syntax chopping may not do full justice to the utter discombobulation of this phrase. You can just see the chief regime-changers hearing this and breaking out with the frantic 'wait, wait, waits...'

In any case, approaching the matter at that level may miss the point. Could anybody but this president have managed to get away with uttering such a quote? What we're seeing here is a grey glimmer of that undiscovered country where verbal goofballism meets the honed edge of grand strategy. Sort of Gomer Pyle meets Forrest Gump meets Klemens von Metternich.

Now, I'm not sure the underlying change of policy here is wrong-headed, at least as far as it goes, or even that it represents a change. But how much must those report writers at Heritage and AEI be pulling out their hair out over this. (And a lot of them don't have a lot to spare. So it's serious.) I mean, if only the phrase 'regime change' had come with an instruction manual or a rulebook perhaps this chicanery would never have been possible.

Now do you doubt that Colin Powell is calling the shots?

The folks at ABCs

The folks at ABC's always-admirable The Note say the "the ball is in [my] court" on the South Dakota voter fraud story, after this detailed article in Sunday's Argus Leader. But perhaps they should look a bit closer at the article itself. The article contains the following quote from Republican Attorney General Mark Barnett, who was himself one of the original hard-chargers on the alleged vote fraud story...

"I'm still only aware of two cases where criminal law may have been violated, and you've heard about those," said Barnett. "I just don't want the suggestion out there that there is widespread fraud when we don't have any evidence of that."

Our recent posts continue

Our recent posts continue to stir the blood of the more rabid breed of South Dakota Republicans, ginning up a slew of letters like this one.

Sir,

Please get your facts straight concerning the Mary Matalin speech in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I happen to be on the committee that sets up these monthly luncheons. This WAS NOT a fund-raiser for John Thune or anyone else. As a matter of fact, we have never made money on any of the luncheons, that is not our intent. Just for the record, after paying for the food, the announcements and the postage we LOSE money. This event was open to the public, it was even announced in the Argus Leader by David Kranz, a well known Democrat lover. Just for the record a registered Democrat was sitting at my table.

You people will stop at nothing to hold on to power, even if it means destroying people's lives. What next murder? Oh yeah, Bill Clinton has already done that.

I guess we Republicans really owe you libs a debt of gratitude because you have really fired up our base. We will be voting in droves on November 5th. I am sure Johnson would appreciate some help packing up his office on November 6th. Remind him not to take anything that does not belong to him; I know you libs have a tendency to have sticky fingers.

AB [Full Name Suppressed]

Then AB's husband chimed in ...
As we expected, liberal sycophants such as yourself are trying to circle the wagons to protect your hold on power. I informed my wife, who is on the committee for Winning Woman, about your rant and she intends to dispel your lies. You and the DNC may think that your smear tactics will work in SD, but think again. We have had to live with the absolutely biased reporting of the Argus Leader for years, so one more idiot in the liberal bunch really won't matter. We intend to contact Neal Bennett and make sure that he has the facts of this matter . This will demonstrate just who is the liar! YOU!
And so it goes.

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.

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