Rumor: A Kerry Affair & Push Polling
Rumor has it that John Kerry (D) is going to be outed by Time Magazine next week for having an affair with a 20 year old woman who remains unknown. The affair supposedly took place intermittently right up to Kerry’s Fall 2002 announcement of candidacy. At present, this is nothing more than a rumor; and after such sordid tactics as the “push polling” that took place in South Carolina in the 2000 elections, can such rumors be credible during campaign cycles? Could this create a Democratic backlash against Republicans for perceived scandalmongering?
Let's rewind history and study another rumor, one which cost Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) his candidacy in 2000. McCain was running a close campaign against George Bush in South Carolina, when Karl Rove introduced his brilliant strategy: push polling (Rove has been involved in push polling since the early 70s). Essentially, calls were made to households asking “Would you be more likely or less likely to vote for John McCain for president if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?” Many took this to say that he had one, and seeing McCain and his wife on stage with their adopted Bangladeshi daughter, concluded that the rumor was true. The sight of the little dark skinned girl made the seed planted earlier grow, and McCain ended up losing South Carolina and subsequentially dropping out of the race.
So what does push polling have to do with a rumor of Kerry having an affair? Well some would argue that they are merely separate heads of the same beast. Pointing an indignant finger at the machinations of Karl Rove, the Bush administration's strategist who has a penchant for dispersing rumors, many on the Democrat side will claim that Rove is up to his old shenanigans and that the rumors have no basis. What caused McCain to lose in 2000 could inspire Democrats to rally behind Kerry, and lead to a major rift between the parties and brings the race to a closer finish. Theoretical, but plausible.
Echoes from Bubba
Any mention of a purported sexual scandal would be incomplete without bringing up the notorious ex-President William Jefferson Clinton. With a presidency overshadowed by allegations of oral sex, abuse of power, misconduct, and asking for clarification of the word "is", Clinton's legacy passed on a need for greater scrutiny of presidential candidates and tore down the veil that used to protect the private lives of most politicians. One could draw a parallel between Clinton's misconduct and Kerry's possible extra-marital relationship, there is no doubt. While many argued that Clinton's affairs were nobody's business except his own, others clamored that the President had an obligation to reflect moral clarity and to be a beacon of marriage values. Whether it was a valid impeachable offense or not was yet another matter to argue.
Push Me, Pull You
Karl Rove, if given the right opportunity, would without doubt pounce on this rumor, and has proven that tactics such as push polling do work. It may not matter if the rumor is true or is a complete fabrication, it will be used against Kerry now, and should he make it past the primaries and become the Democratic nominee (which appears to be with certainty), he will certainly have to fend these and other rumors. Push polling is not intended to get accurate results for candidates to use in speeches, it is intended to wound the image of the opposition. It is "push", because it should push the person into believing something that is specious or rumor (i.e.- “Would you be more likely or less likely to vote for John Kerry for president if you knew he had sex with an intern?”). It conveys that the caller has juicy information, and wants you to know, but indemnifies itself from liability by phrasing it as a question. It is also intended to pull the person taking the "poll" into dropping their candidate and voting for the opposition, and many times does, but this year may be an occasion for a large disenfranchised voter base who is disillusioned and tired of shady politicking practices. There could be a backlash against both major parties, but it is not guaranteed. Whatever the outcome, both major candidates may be badly bruised and tarnished if they allow scandalmongering and surreptitious polling tactics to take precedence over running an on-message campaign based on policies, truth, and exhortations of their accomplishments.
Note: I wanted to add that if this shows up in Time next week as my source claims (I am assuming it is the one with Kerry on the cover), WatchBlog will have scooped an incredibly big story and that you can trust us to deliver timely news that is more than just rumor and hearsay. We bring context that delves into how the campaign may take shape.
UPDATE (2/12/04): Drudge picks up on Kerry/Intern affair
UPDATE (2/14/04): Rumor Machinations: Who gains from it?
UPDATE (2/16/04): Woman Denies Rumors of Kerry AffairPosted by SoL at February 6, 2004 1:00 PM