Oh boy. I took one look at my Times Argus this morning, and my mind immediately started writing the Republican press release that's sure to come. If it hasn't already.
Top story, from Peter Hirscfeld at the Vermont Press Bureau: "Democrats hire firm to dig into Brock's past."
Yep, the "name callers who dwell in the bowels of the Vermont Democratic Party" (quoth Jack Lindley) are at work again, looking for ways to destroy Randy Brock, Pure And Blameless Scion of the Green Mountains.
Er, yes and no. What the VT Dems actually did was hire an opposition-research firm to look into Randy Brock's official past. Stanford Campaigns has filed a public-records request for information on Brock's term as state Auditor in 2005-06. They are not, as far as we can tell, looking into Brock's school report cards or nightlife proclivities. They aren't sending out an army of trench-coated private dicks or dumpster-diving behind Brock's house. The headline "dig into Brock's past" is inflammatory and misleading, and is perfect fodder for a Republican howl of protest.
Oppo, for those just entering the 21st Century, has become a standard part of political campaigns. Shumlin hired the same firm to probe Brian Dubie in 2010 -- that is, Dubie's public and official record, not his personal life. Given that the Brock campaign has hired a bunch of high-powered right-wing campaign consultants, I'm sure they're doing the same on Shumlin. Unless they've decided to save some bucks by simply borrowing Brian Dubie's oppo files from 2010.
Hirschfeld does Stanford Campaigns a big favor by extensively quoting its own puffery on how important and effective it was in 2010. I guess this is his way of inflating the importance of his "scoop." On its website, Stanford claims a huge share of the credit for Shumlin's victory over Dubie:
"The polls had Shumlin behind by 6 points, meaning he had to make up ground when every other Democrat in the country was just trying to hold ground," the site says.
..."After two weeks of comparative television ads [based on Stanford material], Dubie had dropped 8 points as Shumlin established a slim lead that he held onto even as the bottom dropped out for Democrats across the country."
Well, maybe. I don't really recall it that way, and I imagine a lot of that is Stanford propaganda. In fact, since Stanford only works for Democrats, Stanford probably did oppo for a lot of those 2010 losers as well, and it didn't do them any good.
In any case, VT Dem Chair Jake Perkinson draws the appropriate line regarding opposition research:
"I think there's a big difference between pointing out deficiencies that an opponent might have ... and slinging mud," Perkinson said. "When you get into the realm of misleading or omitting important information, I think that qualifies as negative campaigning, and I don't think that has a place in Vermont. I do think there's a place for pointing out flaws in an opposing candidate."
That's exactly where the line should be drawn. If the flaws and deficiencies arise from a candidate's public service, then they are fair game. And the Shumlin campaign is simply conducting due diligence by examining Randy Brock's public record.
I realize that a newspaper has to put something on top of the front page every day... but as front-page stories go, this one's a nothingburger.