Vaughn Ward: Worst Candidate Ever?

House Candidate Vaughn Ward (R-ID)
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Meet Vaughn Ward. He’s running in today’s Republican primary in Idaho’s 1st Congressional District. He’s an Iraq War veteran. A former CIA operations officer. A fourth-generation Idaho native. Heck, Sarah Palin supports him.

And after this spring’s disastrous, gaffe-filled primary campaign — during which Ward declared that Puerto Rico was a country, apparently plagiarized fellow candidates and Barack Obama, campaigned on cutting federal spending while his wife’s gig at Fannie Mae allowed Ward to go without an income, and re-released a six-month-old endorsement — Ward may be able to add another title to his resume: Worst candidate ever.

The Ward campaign tried to downplay the mistake-ridden campaign in a phone call with TPMDC today. Spokesman Mike Tracy said that Ward “takes full responsibility for what’s happened,” but that many of the campaign’s problems centered around a campaign manager who was replaced less than two weeks ago.

“We took care of the situation,” Tracy said. “Changes were made.”

And yet…

Let’s review the record.

  • Yesterday, it came to light that Ward had apparently plagiarized parts of then-State Sen. Barack Obama’s famous speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

    Here’s a devastating video, as cut together by state Senate candidate Lucas Baumbach.

  • During a debate last week, Ward seemed to suggest that Puerto Rico is a country. It isn’t, of course. It’s a U.S. territory. Ward opponent Raul Labrador — who was born in Puerto Rico — called Ward out on the apparent error.

    “Puerto Rico’s not a country,” Labrador said. “Puerto Rico’s a territory of the United States. It’s about time that we took some civics lesson and learned what Puerto Rico is.”

    Ward: “I really don’t care what it is. It doesn’t matter.”

    “Obviously you don’t,” Labrador said.

    Watch (relevant portion starts around 1:10):

    Tracy told me the above video had been “cut” and “doctored” by the Labrador campaign — and that the original question referenced foreign countries — thus making Ward’s response more reasonable.

    “He clearly knows Puerto Rico is an American territory,” Tracy said. “He served in Guantanamo for awhile.”

    When it was pointed out that Guantanamo is in Cuba, Tracy said, “I’m just saying he knows where and what Puerto Rico is.”

  • Earlier this month, the Associated Press reported that Ward — who served as John McCain’s Nevada director during the 2008 presidential campaign — didn’t vote for McCain in that election … or for anyone else.

    “I was managing the entire operation, and it became apparent I was not going to be able to fly home to vote,” Ward told the AP. “The important point is I was out there fighting for the campaign.”

  • On May 13, the Idaho Statesman reported that Ward had been endorsed by the American Conservative Union political action committee. The only problem? The newspaper had already published the months-old endorsement — way back on Nov. 10, 2009. But the Ward campaign re-released the endorsement in May anyway, and the paper initially took the bait. From the Statesman‘s story on the flap:

    Ward’s campaign manager, Ryan O’Barto, explained the decision to reissue the news release in an e-mail early Thursday, “As we get closer to the election I like to re-release endorsements. Some were sent out a long time ago and since it was so far out the press might not have picked it up due to the election being so far away.”

    But an hour later, O’Barto called to apologize. “I’m not trying to get anything over on you. It’s the same release as before and that’s not what it’s supposed to be. I’m about to send out a correction. That’s my fault. I just got a new Mac and I’m still trying to figure it out.”

  • On the same day that the endorsement recycling came to light, Ward was also hit with the revelation that half of the 10 position statements on his campaign website were, as the Spokesman-Review put it, “word-for-word identical to statements on other candidates’ and congressmen’s sites.” The campaign quickly disabled links to the copied statements. Several Republican supporters of Labrador called on Ward to withdraw over the apparent plagiarism. Ward replaced his campaign manager.

    “People are human,” Tracy told me today, referring to the need for a staff shakeup. “And mistakes get made.”

  • Ward also found himself in hot water for shifting his position on a possible repeal of the 17th Amendment —
    which would take the selection of U.S. senators out of voters’ hands. Late last month, Ward told a TV audience that he favored a repeal, but changed his tune after taking some heat in the press. Ward said he was “clarifying” his position, not changing it. But Tea Party Boise President Brendan Smythe told TPMDC that Ward’s new position amounted to a “massive flip-flop.”
  • And just yesterday, Ward sent out an email that included a quote from Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID), along with a list of dozens of people who have endorsed Ward. Crapo asked Ward for a correction, saying the email creates the “inaccurate impression” that Crapo endorsed Ward.

    However, both I and members of my staff have made it clear that the statement is not an endorsement and should not be used as an endorsement in the 1st Congressional District race.

  • Earlier this month, Democrats charged that Ward, a Republican, had previously served as a Democratic volunteer. During college, Ward was an intern for Democratic state lawmaker Jim Hansen and later volunteered for Democrat Tim Kaine’s 2005 gubernatorial bid in Virginia, Democrats said.

    The Ward campaign denied it. According to the Idaho Reporter:

    Ward’s campaign manager, Ryan O’Barto, said Ward never backed Kaine’s campaign, and that his work as a college intern didn’t reflect his political ideology. “He was not a supporter of Gov. Kaine whatsoever,” O’Barto said. “He was not a supporter then. He isn’t a supporter now. He never will be a supporter.”

  • And finally, Ward took heat for campaigning on slashing federal spending when his wife works at bailout darling Fannie Mae.

    “We’re set up financially where I don’t have to work for money,” Ward told the Idaho Statesman last year. “Instead, I can work on a campaign.”

    Kirsten Ward works as a technology project manager for Fannie Mae — which has received tens of billions of bailout dollars.

Worst. Candidate. Ever.

Additional reporting by Evan McMorris-Santoro.

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