The Fall Slime Season is in full swing. If you doubt it, check out the two new TV ads just put out by Gordon Smith.
In a tactic reminiscent of George H.W. Bush's Willie Horton ad in the 1988 presidential campaign, the Republican senator's ads try to portray Smith's opponent, Jeff Merkley, as coddling child rapists.
The first one opens with a mug shot of Richard Gillmore, the notorious "jogger rapist" from the 1980s. "Richard Gillmore, serial rapist of young girls," the narration says. "Convicted for only one, because the statute of limitations had expired. Now he may go free, back into society.
"Jeff Merkley opposed extending the statute of limitations for prosecuting rape of minors. Merkley opposes mandatory life sentences for serial rapists like Richard Gillmore. Jeff Merkley - failing to protect our most vulnerable."
The other ad features one of Gillmore's victims, Tiffany Edens. "I was just 13 when he broke into our house, attacked and raped me," she says. "Later he confessed to raping eight others. But Oregon's time limit for prosecuting those rapes ran out. Jeff Merkley voted against changing the law. That's wrong, and that's why I'm speaking out. Jeff Merkley, you should have voted to protect victims, not rapists."
The Merkley campaign issued a detailed response pointing out that as a state legislator Merkley had, in fact, supported lengthening the statute of limitations for sex crimes and imposing life imprisonment for serial sex offenders.
"Gordon Smith is continuing the same old Washington games with his latest ad, distorting the truth about Jeff Merkley's public safety record," the Merkley campaign said. "Jeff Merkley supports extending the statute of limitations and mandatory life imprisonment for sex predators and has always fought for tougher public safety laws in the Oregon Legislature. That's why the Oregon State Police Officers' Association has endorsed his campaign.
"'Jeff Merkley is the father of two children, and for Smith to suggest that he does not protect our children and families is outrageous,' said Matt Canter, Merkley campaign spokesman. 'Jeff Merkley always stands up to protect our children and our families from violent crime. This is the worst kind of Washington politics from a desperate politician, who will do whatever it takes to get reelected.'"
The campaign said that in 2005 Merkley voted for HB 2015, which would have increased the statute of limitations for sex crimes from 6 years to 12 years and to 30 years for victims under the age of 18. Merkley voted in 1999 for the minority report of HB 2605, which would have required mandatory life sentences for serial sex offenders with eligibility for parole only after 30 years in prison.
Over on the BlueOregon blog, the sarcasm was dripping from Kari Chisholm's keyboard:
"Somewhere in Gordon Smith's campaign office, they've got a glass case. It's labeled, 'In case of emergency, break glass.'
"I always figured Smith was going to wait until mid-October, but it seems that desperation has set in already."
Democrats say Smith is getting desperate because of a new poll showing Merkley with a two-point lead, 43% to Smith's 41%.
The poll, conducted for the Merkley campaign by Peter Brodnitz of the Benenson Strategy Group in Washington, DC, had a margin of error of 3.7%, meaning that Merkley's lead is statistically insignificant. But what may be significant is that Smith remains well under 50%, always a sign of trouble for an incumbent.
"Further evidence that money isn't everything in politics: Despite a big fundraising lead and a moderate record by Oregon standards, two-term Republican Senator Gordon Smith faces the fight of his life," commented the RealClearPolitics blog.
"Smith led by nine points in the last Benenson poll for Merkley's campaign. But with national Democrats hammering his ties to the Bush administration and other unpopular positions he's taken, just 32% of Oregonians now say the senator is doing an excellent or good job. A whopping 61% say he's doing fair or poor."