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You often hear about the gloves coming off in politics, but this spring, in the heavily Republican 5th district of Pennsylvania, two GOP Congressional candidates set the standard.
Five days before the race, Derek Walker, a 32-year old financial planner and Eagle Scout, was charged with two felonies (burglary and criminal trespass) and four misdemeanors (including disorderly conduct and stalking), all stemming from an incident on August 25, 2007. According to the police complaint, Walker entered his ex-girlfriend's apartment while she was with another man, took a cell phone video of the two of them and remarked: ''This video is going to put an end to your job with the school district.' The ex, Kathleen Ferry, is a 6th grade math teacher.
Walker denied all charges, though admitted to The Progress News "that he had been at the apartment because he wanted to 'smooth things over' with the woman. He admitted to seeing his ex-girlfriend on the sofa with the man and commented, 'The school district will be disappointed in this.'"
A simple misunderstanding? Walker claimed the charge was completely political, and vowed to stay in the race, saying that it was "politics at its worst." Walker's campaign manager added "The alleged incident occurred over 250 days ago. It's very convenient that the DA, who's a Democrat, decided to conclude his investigation five days before the primary."
The next day, Walker published a letter on his website from Kathleen Ferry denouncing the "blatantly false rumors" and offering her endorsement and good luck. Was Walker the victim of a smear? The real culprit, in Walker's mind, was Matt Shaner, 28 year-old businessman, alleged drunk driver, and Walker's main competition.
The week before District Attorney William Shaw brought the charges, Walker ran a negative ad against Shaner, implying that due to a drunk driving incident, he was "unfit to serve in Congress":
Walker was sure that Shaner was behind Shaw's prosecution. Both men denied the accusation.
Shaw said, "this office is not being used in some political gamemanship.... It [the investigation] started well before anybody was running for office." He added that he "couldn't pick Matt Shaner out of a lineup."
And on Shaner's end? His campaign had gone to all the trouble of crafting an ad based on Walker's alleged break-in, but the charges had saved him the expense of airing it:
The Shaner campaign early Thursday morning said it planned to air a TV commercial about Walker and the August incident later that day. When the charges were filed, however, the campaign pulled the ad, citing a change in strategy and a desire to run a positive campaign.
Walker ran another ad, publicly accusing Shaner of "conspiring behind closed doors to fix the election," but to no avail:
Although in the weeks leading up to the primary, the two young, aggressive campaigners had been the front runners, Shaner and Walker effectively disabled the other and each walked away with just 18% of the popular vote, and were respectively $1.2 mil and $265,000 shorter. Glenn Thompson, the Centre County Republican chairman, walked away with the win with 19% of the vote.