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“Jeff Perry was nearby when [Officer] Scott Flanagan illegally strip searched me. Perry knew what Flanagan did, he had to hear me screaming and crying,” Lisa Allen told the local media about the GOP nominee in Massachusetts’ 10th district.
Allen’s statement was in relation to an incident in 1991, in which Allen was illegally strip-searched by Flanagan, a former Wareham Police Department officer. Perry was sergeant of the department at the time. Flanagan was later convicted of indecent assault on a child in relation to the incident. “It upsets me that Jeff Perry can run for Congress after what he did to me when I was fourteen years old,” she said in her statement.
In Iowa’s 3rd, Democrats pounced on almost decade-old allegations that GOP nominee Brad Zaun harassed his ex-girlfriend. And in Ohio’s 13th, wealthy car dealer Tom Ganley’s surprising campaign to defeat Rep. Betty Sutton (D) came to a screeching halt when accusations of sexual assault surfaced during the race.
Democrats retained all three districts, but they were also in friendlier territory, since Obama won each district by at least 10 points. It appears Democratic attacks worked best to motivate Democrats or to persuade left-leaning independent voters.
But sometimes the attacks either gained more attention inside the Beltway than in the district or the negative story lasted for days rather than weeks or months.
Some Republicans think the potency of the attacks had more to do with an effective defense.
“You cannot sustain these kinds of attacks unless you have the campaign and messaging infrastructure to combat them,” said Ken Spain, communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
GOP strategists were consistently critical of Zaun for his lack of fundraising. Ganley effectively pulled the plug on his own campaign when the allegations surfaced in his race. Meanwhile, candidates such as DesJarlais, West, Renacci and Guinta pushed through when attacked.
Not every good campaign was rewarded. GOP strategists gave credit to Keith Fimian for the campaign he ran against Rep. Gerry Connolly (D) in Virginia’s 11th district, but the GOP nominee told a reporter in late October that the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech could have been avoided if the students had been “packing heat.”
“There was no margin for error, and he committed an unforced error,” said one GOP operative familiar with the race. Fimian lost the race by fewer than 1,000 votes in a district that Obama won by 15 points in 2008.
Good campaign or not, the nature of the district appears to be the best indicator of whether an attack will stick in a national election.
In Pennsylvania’s 10th district, former U.S. Attorney Tom Marino struggled to raise money and was hounded by Democrats and the media for his connection to a convicted felon.
But the Republican was running in a district that McCain won by 9 points and had the luxury of a cheap media market where the NRCC could come in heavy with TV advertising. Marino defeated Rep. Christopher Carney by 10 points, even though his negatives were higher than the Democratic Congressman’s.