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GOP Christians hit new low in Ohio gubernatorial campaign
Columbus Dispatch
Alan Johnson and Mark Niquette
July 27, 2006

Responding to what Democrats and a political expert alike are calling a smear campaign, the state Republican Party is verbally disavowing an e-mail sent by one of its staffers that makes personal allegations against Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ted Strickland and his wife.

But Republican party officials did not distribute a follow-up e-mail or take any other action to repudiate the e-mail, which suggests that the Stricklands are gay.

"Every time we think we've reached the sewer, there's a lower level of sewer," said Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, who has written about dirty campaign strategies in both parties.

The e-mail, obtained by The Dispatch, was sent to an undisclosed group of GOP supporters — with instructions to forward it to others — by Gary Lankford, whom the party hired in July as its "social conservative coordinator." He was paid $16,000 as a "voter contact consultant" for the primary-election campaign of GOP gubernatorial candidate J. Kenneth Blackwell before taking the party job.

Among other things, the e-mail says Strickland married his wife, Frances, at 46, has no children and lives apart from her. It also links readers to an Internet blog that directly questions the sexual orientation of both Stricklands and notes accusations he is "soft on those who sexually assault children."

Party spokesman John McClelland said the message was sent without party approval, isn't part of the party's strategy, and that the party has made it clear that all future messages must be vetted before they are distributed.

"He was acting on his own," McClelland said. "Ted Strickland's record is bad enough on its own merits; we don't need to add anything to it."

Strickland didn't buy that.

"This is coming from the Ohio Republican Party. This is not a blog or some intern. This is someone who works for the Ohio Republican Party," he said.

None of this surprises Sabato, who said that while the public is turned off by gutter politics, the political campaigns of both parties are addicted.

"The operatives today are part of the polarization of our politics," Sabato said. "They're in an army and they are firing real bullets at the opponents and they want to kill them.

"It is now the accepted mode of campaigning. That's why it's so insidious. There's no limit to what is revealed publicly. … Privacy as a concept is almost dead. It's all just thrown out there in the hope that something will stick."

The e-mail in question was sent from a computer at Ohio Republican headquarters by Lankford, one of several paid "outreach coordinators" targeting groups such as social conservatives and sportsmen leading up to the Nov. 7 general election, McClelland said. It was labeled "10 Things to Know About Ted Strickland."

Party officials are accepting some responsibility because they did not explicitly tell Lankford he must have all materials approved before sending them, McClelland said. He couldn't say how many people received the e-mail but said the party would not send out a follow-up e-mail or take any other action to repudiate it besides making public statements.

Lankford, who is also the headmaster of a Christian home school, until recently was listed as a state director of the Ohio Restoration Project. The organization of religious conservatives wants to develop a network of "Patriot Pastors" and sign up 400,000 new "values voters" for this fall's election.

Calls to the tax-exempt project, which has been named in a complaint to the IRS about its association with Blackwell and Republicans, were not returned. McClelland said Lankford would not comment.

"It struck me as ugly," Strickland said. "It is filled with things that are absolutely not true. I don't know what in the hell they're talking about."

For example, Strickland said he and his wife do not live apart nor does she live in Kentucky as the e-mail said. When he is not in Washington, the couple lives in a rental property in Ohio or in a condo they own in Columbus.

"They're trying to use innuendo. That's what they do. It's political dirty tricks. It's an attempt to destroy the opponent rather than debate the issues."

Strickland said he was also upset about parts of the e-mail that questioned his standing with his church.

He distributed a letter yesterday from Bruce R. Ough, resident bishop of the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church. Ough said Strickland was ordained in 1967, served as a pastor in Portsmouth in 1967-68, and transferred to the Kentucky Conference in 1969. He was placed on "honorable location" status in 1970, meaning he retains his ministerial credentials, but is not assigned to a local church ministry.

"They are scared to death of me," Strickland said. "The only way they can beat me is to destroy me. I've dealt with these kind of people. I worked in a maximum-security prison that was full of liars."

Meanwhile, Republicans are complaining about a flier reportedly distributed by a Cleveland group calling itself "Blacks against Blackwell."

It reportedly links Blackwell, President Bush and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and says, "Our color — but not our kind" while urging a vote for Strickland.

Strickland's campaign had nothing to do with the flier, a spokesman said. Blackwell spokesman Carlo LoParo said he hopes Strickland would reject such tactics, and that Blackwell doesn't support the tactics used by Lankford.



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