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Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones ...

Little did I know that what I figured was a relatively innocuous column about the Democrats’ problems in North Carolina, where the party will hold its national convention in early September, would generate such a flood of angry attacks.

“Dear Stuart,” emailed one man from Beulaville, N.C., “Your article about North Carolina’s political situation shows that you are missing a lot of what is going on in North Carolina. ... You completely failed to mention the obvious: A huge block [sic] of North Carolina voters are hate-filled racists who would never vote for a half-black candidate.”

Those of us who write or talk about politics for a living get more than our share of hate mail and criticism, and I guess that’s fine. If you are at all in the public eye, you better be willing to let folks who read you let off steam now and then.

I can easily ignore most attacks because they come from people I don’t know or don’t respect. But not all critics are equal, and not all criticisms should  simply be ignored.

I was recently attacked on a Charlotte network affiliate by Democratic National Committee Communications Director Brad Woodhouse. The item was picked up by Politico, which subsequently attached a misleading “update” to the item.

“With all due respect, I don’t think Stu Rothenberg has any idea what he’s talking about,” said Woodhouse, who went on to say that voters in November won’t remember the scandal that has embroiled the state Democratic Party or the Republican Speaker of the House.

I thought that his comment about the long-term effect of the scandal was reasonable, and I generally agree. But my column was more about the rationale for picking Charlotte, N.C., for the Democratic convention than about anything else, and the chaos involving the state Democratic Party, I’m quite sure, isn’t quite what Democratic strategists were hoping for.

Of course, Woodhouse didn’t say anything about the state’s unemployment rate or the unpopularity of the sitting Democratic governor.

He also commented that I ignored the actual polls, which show President Barack Obama leading in the state. In fact, I alluded to them when I said that I thought the president was more likely than not to lose the state, “no matter what current polling shows.” It’s easy to say someone will win when they are ahead, but it’s harder to pick a candidate who is trailing.

I’ve dealt with Woodhouse on and off over the years — certainly I’m familiar with his work — and I know him to be a partisan attack dog who thinks everything Democrats do is right and everything Republicans do is wrong. Not every press person is that way, thankfully, but that’s apparently how Woodhouse sees his role.

But what got me angry was Politico’s so-called update, added to the piece after I declined to comment. “UPDATE: A colleague, siding with Woodhouse, forwards the following Rothenberg prediction for the 2010 elections: ‘But there are no signs of a dramatic rebound for the party, and the chance of Republicans winning control of either chamber in the 2010 midterm elections is zero. Not ‘close to zero.’ Not ‘slight’ or ‘small.’ Zero.’”

As I have written before, that assessment was made not in 2010 but in April  2009, 18 months before the November midterm elections, and it was accurate at the time. When it started to become clear that the nature of the election cycle was changing, my assessment changed.

By mid-July 2010, my assessment was for “substantial” GOP House gains in the order of 28 to 33 seats. And by late October, I was projecting a Republican blowout.

Right before Election Day, the Rothenberg Political Report projected Republican gains of 55 to 65 seats, among the most accurate of projections.

Politico reporters and editors know that or should know that. Printing that “update” from an unnamed “colleague” — it’s unclear whether it was a colleague of Woodhouse or of the Politico reporter — was atrocious journalism.

Politico likes to stir the pot, trying to create controversy, and when I declined to fire back at Woodhouse, it apparently decided to pour gasoline on what was the smallest of fires. It’s the way the paper operates, unfortunately.

Interestingly, Woodhouse distributed a memo dated July 15, 2010 — less than four months before the midterms — suggesting that 2010 would be very different from 1994 or 2006, when strong political waves shifted the control of Congress.

After citing a variety of poll numbers, Woodhouse argued that Democrats were positioned “to win close races across the country and to maintain strong majorities in both the House and the Senate.” Politico did not note that memo nor that “prediction.”

Woodhouse wasn’t the only high-
profile person to attack me over the North Carolina column. A similar attack came from Rush Limbaugh.

That’s right, one column generated attacks from the communications director of the DNC and from the conservative talk-show host/bomb-thrower.

Limbaugh has attacked me before, including using my April 2009 column to argue that I am “biased, ignorant, [and] blew 2010 calls.”  He also didn’t note that my assessments changed throughout the cycle as polling showed the electorate’s mood evolving.

This time, Limbaugh, who recently said that he’d want Georgetown University student Sandra Fluke to post a video of herself having sex “so we can all watch,” attacked me for allegedly being disappointed that North Carolina is a mess for Democrats.

Of course, I never said that, because I never take partisan sides. But to Limbaugh, and to people like Woodhouse, there is no neutral ground, no dispassionate analysis. Everything is driven by ideology or partisanship. Everything is about confrontation. For me, that’s one of the least appealing things about politics — and about political coverage — these days.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

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