This year’s most extraordinary example of slimeball politics involves the former hostage Terry Anderson, who is running for state senator in a district in southern Ohio. His opponent, Joy Padgett, a longtime Republican functionary, links him and Dan Rather as two liberal journalists who don’t get their facts straight, going on to show a photo of Anderson shaking hands with a Middle Eastern–looking man and accusing him of being soft on terrorism.
Anderson, a former chief Mideast correspondent for the Associated Press, was taken hostage by Hezbollah in Lebanon in 1985 and held until 1991. Following his release, he returned to Lebanon with a CNN crew and searched out his former captors. A photo from that trip is the one now being used by Padgett.
After returning to the U.S., he taught at the Columbia School of Journalism, and currently is honorary co-chair with Walter Cronkite of the Committee to Protect Journalists. This year he decided to run for office.
His district lies in southern Ohio, along the Ohio River, in a culturally conservative rural area where one current issue is the loss of jobs in coal mining. The congressional district that encompasses the state senate district is held by a Democrat, and because of its long ties to heavy industry and the worsening jobs picture, Democrats believe they can win here.
Among Anderson’s most important support bases is the student body of Ohio University at Athens, where Anderson has set up his headquarters. These students register and vote with so-called “provisional” ballots. The Republican secretary of state, Kenneth Blackwell, doesn’t want to include provisional ballots unless voters can prove they permanently reside in the district. If that interpretation holds, many of these students will find their votes challenged. Right now, Anderson says he’s ahead in polls, but the Republicans have been savagely attacking him. The state GOP is pumping $1 million into the race, a huge amount for a state senate seat, and has brought in negative-advertising experts.
The attack ads against Anderson have been in mailings and on TV and radio. At a League for Women Voters debate last week, Anderson walked off the stage, refusing to participate. “The first time I met Padgett she said, ‘I run a clean campaign,’ and I said, ‘Good, let’s do that.’ I have attacked her votes . . . never attacked her personally. . . . She attacked me, twisting my campaigns. The last piece, I couldn’t accept it.
“The picture,” he continued, referring to the photo of himself shaking hands with the Hezbollah official, “is one of the guys who kidnapped me, who held me for seven years, who chained me and blindfolded me. I went back to Lebanon with a CNN news crew and looked him up and put him on camera and asked him, Why did you do this?
“She now says I am an apologist for terrorists.That’s sheer nonsense. It’s offensive. I’ve just about had enough.”
Additional reporting: Laurie Anne Agnese, David Botti, and Nicole Duarte