Wu’s Woes May Help Opponent

Posted October 20, 2004 at 6:39pm

More than a week after Oregon’s largest newspaper revealed a 28-year-old sexual assault allegation against Rep. David Wu (D-Ore.), the three-term Congressman’s prospects for re-election do not appear to be greatly diminished.

His opponent, businesswoman Goli Ameri (R), tried to engage Wu on the subject at a recent debate and unveiled a harsh ad questioning Wu’s fitness for office in light of the allegations but so far, 1st district voters appear unwilling to punish him.

“From the letters we get people are telling us this happened a long time ago, that’s the strongest aspect of it,” said David Sarasohn, an editor and columnist at The Oregonian.

The paper published an exhaustive piece Oct. 12 detailing an altercation between Wu and a former girlfriend in the summer of 1976 when both were Stanford University undergraduates.

Neither Wu nor the unidentified woman commented for the story and the woman never pressed charges against Wu either at the university or criminal level. Nonetheless, he has since apologized for his actions, calling his behavior “inexcusable” and admitting, in a written statement, that he “hurt someone I cared very much about” when he was 21.

Wu is now 49.

Many readers responded negatively to the story, questioning its timing — three weeks prior to the election — and relevance considering the age of the allegation and the absence of an established pattern — no other woman has accused him of similar conduct.

Michael Arrieta-Walden, the paper’s ombudsman wrote Sunday that he, and hundreds of readers, disagreed with the paper’s decision to run the story just days before ballots in the vote-by-mail state reached voters’ mailboxes.

Ameri, who at first refused to comment on the allegations, now sides with the paper.

Her latest television ad uses excerpts from the story while a narrator intones: “She was screaming. He tried to rape her” and “Wu used a pillow to muffle her screams.”

Wu’s campaign criticized Ameri’s decision.

“It’s unfortunate that Goli Ameri has decided to make this a political issue,” spokeswoman Mari Margil said. “Congressman Wu has been very clear that he is very sorry for his behavior in college.”

Greg Speed, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, had harsher words, though he declined to discuss the specifics of the allegation or its possible ramification on the race.

“This is a pretty strong indicator that Goli Ameri continues to languish in her own polling,” he said. “Clearly Ameri is getting desperate and the campaign is resorting to desperate measures.”

There has been no public polling in this race, save one whose sample size was far too small to be accurate, but a Wu poll taken right before the story broke showed him leading Ameri 56 percent to 38 percent. One internal poll conducted since then, and circulating among Democrats, shows Wu still leading 54 percent to 28 percent.

Ameri spokesman Jonathan Collegio said that the allegation will hurt Wu and that it is entirely appropriate for Ameri to comment.

“You can tell definitely tell people are concerned,” Collegio said.

Ameri did not immediately respond because she had not read the entire 5,000-plus-word article but after doing so, and weighing the accusation, she felt Wu’s silence was “deafening” and that he needed to explain himself further, Collegio said.

“Mr. Wu says the incident happened 28 years ago and that he is a changed man,” Ameri said in Monday’s debate. “He has certainly admitted to a wrong-doing. The question I had to resolve in my mind however, was whether this was merely a wrong-doing? Is an attempted rape simply a wrong-doing? Is an attempted rape simply a youthful indiscretion? Is violating the most basic right of a woman — her security and trust — merely a wrong-doing?”

Kevin Mannix, chairman of the Oregon Republican Party, said Wu’s conduct in college and since remains a legitimate issue.

“Voters have a right to full information so they can decide how” to respond, he said. Furthermore, Wu “stonewalled” The Oregonian and it is fair to question him for that, Mannix said.

The paper also raised the stonewalling issue — he reportedly refused to respond to inquiries from The Oregonian dating back six months — but Wu’s campaign sidestepped the question.

When asked if Wu should have volunteered the information or spoken out sooner, Margil responded: “Congressman Wu has been very clear about how sorry he has been about this.”

Margil also said Wu has put the ball in the voters’ court.

“He’s said what he feels he needs to say and I know he has said it is now something that the voters need to decide,” she said.

One veteran watcher of Oregon politics said he thinks the campaigns’ responses to the story shows that the issue is not hurting Wu.

“When this first hit no one could know for sure what result would accrue from this,” the source, who asked not to be named, said. “The question was what would the campaigns do? Wu did his contrition tour and then didn’t deal with it any other way. If Ameri is now running an ad, it says to me she didn’t get much of a bounce.”

Usually, if a bomb thrown into the middle of the campaign is working, the opponent would just sit back and let it destroy the other guy, the source added.

Collegio acknowledged that there is no polling to back up his belief that the allegation is hurting Wu but he said donations to the campaign have shot up since the story ran.

For instance, Ameri took in $25,000 on Monday and $20,000 on Tuesday, he said.

If Ameri is to close the gap and take down Wu, she likely will need the help of the National Republican Congressional Committee, which does not seem forthcoming.

After expending about $70,000 in coordinated spending — by law campaign committees can pick up some expenses of individual candidates — it has not reserved any television time in the district, which is just west of Portland.

Bo Harmon, an NRCC spokesman, said he could not comment on the committee’s intention but added: “We have money in reserve to be involved in late-breaking races.”

Harmon also said that Ameri, whose fundraising was already impressive, can benefit from the allegations without the help of the NRCC.

“It caused a lot of people to take a look at that race,” he said.

By contrast, the Democrats are not rushing to Wu’s aid, indicating they do not believe he needs it. Last month the DCCC canceled what time it had reserved in Oregon to shore up Wu and Rep. Darlene Hooley (D) in the adjacent 5th district. It has yet to make any new commitment to either race, both of which are GOP targets.