Is The NRCC Using Anti-Gay Innuendo Against Dem Candidate?

The NRCC has been quick to attack Tennessee state Sen. Roy Herron, who has emerged as the Democratic candidate for the seating of retiring Blue Dog Rep. John Tanner — and along the way, they seem to be using some rather interesting rhetoric.

Herron is a former minister and an attorney, and he has taught at both the divinity and law schools at Vanderbilt, his alma mater. He has been married for 22 years, and has three sons. He has also written several books, including Tennessee Political Humor, How Can a Christian Be in Politics?, and God And Politics. However, the NRCC says Herron isn’t being honest about his social liberalism.

Over the course of the past week, the NRCC has mounted a series of attacks on Herron that taken together could suggest they’re trying to say that Herron is gay or effeminate. The NRCC denies that’s their line of attack, and the Herron camp hasn’t publicly raised the issue (see late update below), but take a look at what the NRCC has been saying.(All points of emphasis are ours.)

When I first spoke to NRCC spokesman Andy Seré on Wednesday, Seré used Herron’s personal blog against him. In addition to his legislative work, Herron uses a good portion of the blog to discuss his physical fitness, and his family’s history of heart disease. “Rather than protecting small businesses, rather than protecting taxpayers, he often seems more interested in watching what he eats, making sure he’s jogging enough miles everyday, and just watching his body image very closely,” said Seré.

Is there meant to be any innuendo in that, I asked at the time? “No,” said Seré, “but I think it’s odd that you’ve got this 23-year state Senator who’s running for governor, and now he’s running for Congress, and he wants to represent people during very serious times, and half of his blog entires on his blog are about his body image.”

Seré has sent out some press releases since then, such as “See Roy Run…From His New-Age Liberal Values,” attacking Herron for opposing a ban on adoption by gays, and having been endorsed in his gubernatorial campaign (which he dropped out of when the House seat opened up) by a local gay newspaper. “With a record like Roy’s, Barney Frank isn’t going to be able to out-position him on the left,” the e-mail says. The e-mail also has a picture of Herron in a marathon, clad in some very short shorts.

“Roy Herron is a career politician. And a lawyer. And a Vanderbilt professor. And an author,” says another e-mail, which also carries the same photo. “But he’s not a businessman. So why can’t Roy Herron just be straight with West and Middle Tennesseans and admit it?

I asked Seré a simple question: What would he say to someone who thinks the NRCC is spreading innuendo that Herron is gay? “I would strongly dispute that. I think the point here is that Roy Herron has a long and extensive record on legitimate public policy issues, and that record deserves to be pointed out,” said Seré. “We believe that he is running from that record as fast as he can. Obviously he’s a marathoner, so the picture of him running is a symbol of him running from his record. We’re talking about legitimate public policy issues here. That’s the bottom line, that’s our thrust.”

“Talking about someone’s position on social issues, including gay adoption, is not innuendo,” Seré added. “It’s a legitimate public policy issue. I believe that west and middle Tennesseans care about social issues.”

As for why he picked Barney Frank as the point of comparison on one of the releases, Seré said: “He is a well known liberal on the full spectrum of issues, fiscal and social. He’s a nationally well known figure, goes on Fox News and fights with Bill O’Reilly all the time, and sometimes using Nancy Pelosi as the example gets a little worn out.”

The Herron campaign’s spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

Late Update: The Herron campaign gives us this statement:

“Roy Herron is in touch and in tune with the views and values of the people of the 8th District of Tennessee. The Republican party bosses in Washington, D.C. aren’t from Tennessee, and they demonstrate their partisan values with their strident, negative, false and misleading attacks. Less than two days after Congressman Tanner’s announcement and they’re already trying to demonize an Eagle Scout, former minister, family man, and father of three who has been married for 22 years. Surely their mothers raised them better. Maybe they should read Roy’s book on “How Can a Christian Be in Politics?”

Late Late Update: A short while ago, Seré sent out another press release, rounding up his attacks on Herron. It concludes: “And by the way, we surely do plan to take Roy up on his suggestion to read every page of his book. Fair warning to him, though: given that the Christian Socialist Party USA highly recommends it, I doubt we (or West and Middle Tennesseans) will like it much.”