I love steamed Chesapeake Blue Crabs. On a wonderful
evening about exactly a year ago I had them for the first time out where you're
supposed to have them, on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Then last week some friends
of mine had me over for steamed crabs and I got to watch the chamber-of-horrors
process of cooking these guys unfold. The doomed, angry crabs would get tossed
into steamer, hop around for a second, and then just as they were about to give
up the ghost one or two of their claws would start to fidget and vibrate in a
chilling -- though admittedly rather appetizing -- death spasm.
I couldn't keep that image out of my mind this evening when I was doing some
new reporting on the John Thune for
Senate campaign in South Dakota.
It's been a hard several weeks for Thune. President Bush recruited Thune --
who is currently in the House -- to get into the race. And his candidacy was premised on
getting lots of support from the president -- who's extremely popular in the
But the plan hasn't come off just as expected. Last month, Bush stiffed the
state on drought relief -- a serious embarrassment for Thune, since his campaign
is based on proximity to the president. And recent polls suggest that Tim Johnson, the incumbent, who long
trailed Thune by significant margins, is opening up his first, albeit very
meager, lead. At a minimum, Johnson has erased all of Thune's big lead.
The Thune campaign has been trying to get the campaign on to issues more
favorable to their candidate. And now the Thune campaign -- or some mysterious,
unknown forces trying to aid the Thune campaign -- seem to be getting desperate.
John Thune is pro-life. Tim Johnson has a mixed record on the issue,
basically on the rightward edge of pro-choice. In a rural, Republican state like
South Dakota you can imagine that Johnson probably doesn't make all that big a
thing of his position on the issue. No campaign fly-ins from Barbra Streisand,
Cybill Shepherd, etc.
This last Sunday at churches -- mostly Catholic ones -- in Souix Falls a
flyer appeared on congregants' car windshields. The flyer
(which has just been added to the TPM Document Collection)
reads: "You Can Help Keep Abortion Legal, Vote Tim Johnson for US Senate." The
first three words and the last three are in smaller letters so it basically
reads 'Keep Abortion Legal, Vote Tim Johnson.'
In still smaller letters below the flyer says "Call Senator Johnson at
605-339-9700. Thank him for his endorsement of the Roe vs. Wade decision
According to today's Argus Leader, Mario Sassani of Holy Spirit Church
attended Mass early Sunday and then found out about the flyers when he returned
later in the morning for a 'respect life' meeting. He was a bit upset.
Now, if nothing else, Johnson's known to have a pretty sharp
campaign staff. So it's hard to figure how they would have thought it was a
good call to leaflet cars at Catholic Churches on Sunday morning asking
parishioners to "thank" Johnson for "his endorsement of the Roe vs. Wade
decision legalizing abortion." Possible, I grant you. What's not possible in
this world we live in? But just rather hard to quite imagine.
Now questions are circulating about whether the flyers were some sort of
political dirty trick.
So I asked Thune Press Secretary Christine Iverson about the flyers.
"I think the Johnson campaign," Iverson told me Tuesday evening, "has made a
move in extremely bad taste which offended a number of South Dakotans and
they're now trying to hide from their actions by attempting to put it on someone
else. But I think their campaign's backfired and I think they realize that
they've made a terrible, terrible mistake and offended a number of people very
But wasn't it a bit hard to figure, I asked Iverson, that even the most
moronic member of the Johnson campaign would decide to leaflet a Catholic church
on Sunday morning with pro-choice flyers?
"I agree," said Iverson. "It was appallingly bad judgment on their part."
When I asked if it could have been some outside group trying to embarrass the
Johnson campaign, Iverson said, "I suppose that it's possible. But again the ads
clearly mention voting for Tim Johnson in November. It's difficult to imagine
how anyone who's not supporting Tim Johnson would have been responsible for
Iverson denied the Thune campaign was involved in any way and added that "bad
judgment and poor taste have long been hallmarks of the Johnson campaign and
this recent incident is no exception. Someone who is attempting to help them or
they themselves made a terrible, terrible error. And they have deeply offended a
number of people. They realize they made a horrible and grave mistake."
When I asked Dan Pfeiffer at the Johnson campaign about Iverson's remarks, he
said: "That is the craziest thing in the world. It's ludicrous to assume that we
did this ... It's a political dirty trick. There's no question about it. And we
believe very strongly that it was John Thune's campaign or someone trying to
help John Thune's campaign that did this. It's such a ludicrous assertion that
it's hard to know what to say. What do you say to insanity? To say that we did
this is dishonest, disingenuous and incredibly desperate."
Neither campaign claims to have any actual knowledge of who put the
flyers on the cars. You can be the judge.