When you step up to challenge a safe and popular incumbent, you have two options.
You can make a straightforward case for your party and against your opponent’s record. Doing so will earn you the goodwill of your political allies who are grateful to have someone on the ballot they can feel proud voting for (like David Osterberg, who ran against Chuck Grassley in 1998).
If you are young, running a hopeless race with dignity will increase your name recognition and bring useful campaign experience for a future bid for public office.
Alternatively, a candidate with no chance of winning can lash out at his popular opponent in an over-the-top way, while bitterly complaining about his own party not helping him enough. This path will energize partisans who hate the incumbent but will probably limit future political options.
Christopher Reed chose door number 2 in a joint forum with Senator Tom Harkin yesterday. Iowa Public Television will broadcast the debate tonight at 7 pm. Judging from initial reports, I don’t think we need to worry about Reed becoming a rising star for Iowa Republicans.
Radio Iowa had the liveblog first yesterday, and the phrase that leapt out at everyone was “Tokyo Rose.”
The headline of the Des Moines Register’s piece was “Reed Says Harkin Gives Aid to Enemy.” Excerpt:
“We’re taking advice from somebody who has an eight-year history of becoming the Tokyo Rose of al-Qaida and Middle East terrorism,” Reed said, referring to his Democrat opponent. […]
Reed, seeking his first public office, said Harkin’s support for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq on a scheduled timetable was the same as “providing aid and comfort to the enemy.”
“The white flag of surrender, accusing our Marines of torture, voting to defund our troops while they are in harm’s way, those are all records of having an anti-American policy,” said Reed, a Marion businessman.
Opponents of a timetable for withdrawing troops contend that announcing the time frame would allow Iraqi insurgents and Islamic terrorist groups in Iraq to go underground, only to return when the United States is gone.
Reed stopped short of accusing Harkin of treason, when asked by moderator David Yepsen, the Register’s political columnist, to clarify his remarks. “No. I’m accusing him of giving our enemies the playbook,” Reed said.
John Deeth nailed it by calling Reed’s comment “a sure entry” in Keith Olbermann’s nightly Worst Person In The World contest. Deeth also passed along this tidbit from the comments at the blog of Polk County Republican Party Chairman Ted Sporer (UPDATE and clarification: the commenter at Sporer’s place pulled it from this blog post by David Yepsen):
After the cameras were turned off, Harkin calmly told Reed: “you’re a nice young man and I thought you had a political future ahead of you but that just ended your political career right there” and walked away. Reed said nothing.
Harkin’s campaign has already sent an e-mail to supporters denouncing Reed’s “vile” attack. Throwing around words like “Tokyo Rose” against a Navy veteran is the kind of mistake that will haunt Reed if he wants journalists to take him seriously in the future. Yepsen observed, “I’ve covered politics in Iowa for 34 years and I’ve never heard a candidate make that kind of serious charge about an opponent.”
When I watch the debate, I’ll be listening closely for different comments alluded to at The Real Sporer blog. Apparently Reed criticized the Republican Party of Iowa for not supporting him enough. Deeth wrote a good piece recently on the controversy within Republican circles over the party’s support for Reed. Some claim Republican officials have even sabotaged his campaign. During John McCain’s Davenport rally this month, Reed was not invited to speak and not mentioned from the podium. According to Deeth, there weren’t even Reed signs visible at the rally. (I have seen exactly one Reed yard sign in the Des Moines area this year.)
I can only imagine how frustrating it must be for Reed to have party officials ignoring his campaign and perhaps even undermining it. However, a televised debate is not the place to air that dirty laundry. Depending on what Reed said, that’s the kind of comment that could deter leading Republicans from supporting his future political efforts.
All in all, not a successful debate for the rookie. They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but I don’t think Reed helped himself yesterday.
Speaking of debates, I forgot to mention a few days ago that Congressman Dave Loebsack debated his Republican challenger, Mariannette Miller-Meeks, in Cedar Rapids. Here is Essential Estrogen’s liveblog. Deeth liveblogged here and published this write-up later. It was the second debate between Loebsack and Miller-Meeks, but the first included Green candidate Wendy Barth and independent Brian White and had a very restrictive format limiting answers to 45 seconds.
All incumbents should agree to debate challengers, like Harkin and Loebsack did this week. Unfortunately, Leonard Boswell and Steve King have declined all invitations to debate this year. (CORRECTION: Boswell ducked all invitations to debate his primary challenger Ed Fallon but will debate Republican Kim Schmett on Iowa Public Radio on October 29.) Chickens have shown up from time to time at King’s events urging him to debate Rob Hubler.
Tom Latham debated Becky Greenwald twice on the radio but has declined to reschedule a planned joint forum on Iowa Public Television. That forum was postponed while Congress was considering the bailout.
Bruce Braley will debate his Republican challenger, David Hartsuch, on KUNI radio from noon to 1 p.m. on October 27.