Dirty Deeds

GENERIC President Bush and John Kerry over the presidential seal
This column from The American Prospect was written by Terence Samuel.

Are you ready for the dirtiest week and a half of politics since Eve got talked into that bite of the apple? A man in Defiance, Ohio, has been arrested for registering false Democratic voters in exchange for crack cocaine. The charge is election fraud, which the GOP says it is gravely concerned about. This smells -- and not just of smoke, either. Meanwhile, at the other end of the state, John Kerry's name was deleted, accidentally, from absentee ballots that were delivered to the Forest Park neighborhood, a predominantly black section of Cincinnati.

There was never any question about how ugly, dirty, or nasty this campaign for president was going to be. But there are some ads on radio stations in Ohio that would embarrass you in the company of your mother. This is particularly true on black radio, where the GOP, acknowledging a huge vulnerability if there is high black turnout, is trying to hold those numbers in check. (Among the charges: Democrats and liberals are ruining black kids, not giving them the kind of educational opportunity they deserve. They are also attacking the troops while they are at war and of making us less safe from terrorism.)

Toxic stuff.

Then there is one ad by the left-leaning Media Fund that asks black voters to think about the long list of ills afflicting the black community and whether Republicans have ever done anything to help. It's the kind of stuff that feels like you could use it to take paint off your walls. With close polling, intense interest and high stakes, these last few days promise to be as contentious as any election run-up in history. One poll showed that 72 percent of Americans believe it will make a significant difference in their lives who wins this election. That number was 40 percent in 1996, the last time an incumbent sought re-election.

People are already inflamed, and the closer the polls numbers are in a state the more inflamed they tend to be.

Here in Ohio this week, the public library in Elyria found itself in the middle of a huge controversy over Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. There were so many requests for the movie that the library decided to simply hold a mass screening for those who didn't want to spend the $8 to see it in the theaters or get it at the Blockbuster.

Well, that didn't sit so well with James Pengov, a George W. Bush supporter who went to court to stop the screening.

The library also planned to show Fahrenhype 9/11, a conservative counterargument to Moore's movie. Neither has been shown, but a little town in Lorain County now knows exactly what it's like the get caught in the grinding wheels of a nasty election campaign.

There was movie furor in Pennsylvania, too, and the intensity of the campaign clearly was the undercurrent driving the hostility. In Jenkintown, which is located in the heavily Republican (but swing-voting) Montgomery County, the local Baederwood Theater decided to host a premiere of Stolen Honor. 600 people were scheduled to attend the sold-out showing of the anti-Kerry documentary, including the film's producer. Some local Kerry supporters, though, voiced sufficiently convincing objections (threats of civil disobedience, is how one official described it) that the management canceled the movie -- which left a lot of Bush and Kerry supporters face-to-face and angry with one another.

This being the Philadelphia area, a fight broke out. One local television station captured one man saying to another, "If you'd shut your mouth we wouldn't be arguing, bleep."

The producer of the film blamed the cancellation on the Kerry campaign, which, of course, denied having played any role.

"The underhanded coercion and intimidation tactics of John Kerry, here's my reaction, what is John Kerry so afraid of with this documentary?" fumed Carlton Sherwood, the producer of Stolen Honor.

The problem here, of course, is that the polls keep telling us that people know that the election is close, easily won or easily lost, and that's just driving a lot of people crazy. One Democratic operative working on getting out the black vote in Cleveland was taken aback this week when a poll from the Joint Center on Political and Economic Studies, the African American think tank in Washington, suggested that President Bush could more than double his African American vote tally from 2000, from eight percent to 18 percent. That would ensure a Bush victory.

"If George Bush gets anywhere near 18 percent of the black vote," the operative said, "I will kiss your ass in the middle of any Main Street anywhere in this country."

Can you feel the love?

Terence Samuel is the chief congressional correspondent for U.S. News & World Report. His column about politics appears each week in the Prospect's online edition.

By Terence Samuel
Reprinted with permission from The American Prospect, 5 Broad Street, Boston, MA 02109. All rights reserved