Fine the Way it Was
Congressional district hurt by interference
In spite of what some might say, the 12th Congressional District Republican primary was fine the way it was.
It had four easily identifiable conservative candidates that were working with an eight-point Republican advantage thanks to the redrawn map that actually drew out the incumbent, Democrat Rep. John Barrow, who ended up moving to Augusta from Savannah the way he moved to Savannah from Athens for the 2006 election when a similar fate befell him.
The primary really didn’t need any help to be interesting. With its cast of characters, their backgrounds, their individual strengths and weaknesses, it had all the makings of a great race.
The farmer. The businessman. The fighter pilot. The woman lawyer.
It was fine — and fair — the way it was.
Enter Larry Peterson.
Peterson is the political writer for the Savannah Morning News. No stranger to reporting on the 12th District, it became quickly and almost embarrassingly apparent that his stories were becoming a part of the campaign itself.
With the exception of a 12th District roundup story and final profiles of each of the four candidates, Peterson has written about the 12th District Congressional Republican primary 15 times since May 17, the date when Rick Allen’s campaign first brought up allegations of Wright McLeod campaign violations.
Of these 15 stories, 13 were outwardly critical of McLeod, leading many to ponder a connection between Peterson’s one-sided reporting and the political desires of Augusta’s William Morris.
Morris, of course, owns the Augusta Chronicle and the Columbia County News Times. He also owns the Savannah Moring News. Both the Chronicle and the News Times have frequently published Peterson’s stories.
McLeod, an Evans real estate attorney and former F-14 radio intercept officer in Desert Storm, raised eyebrows earlier in the year with his first-quarter fundraising totals, which eclipsed Allen’s, who was considered the odds on favorite to win the fundraising arm of the competition.
McLeod raised nearly $150,000 in the first quarter of 2012 compared with Allen’s $76,000.
Anderson raised $90,000 and Sheffield raised just $14,000 over the $100,000 loan she made to the campaign.
Soon after, Allen’s campaign manager, Scott Paradise, filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, charging McLeod with not fully reporting expenditures, accepting donations larger than allowed and stealing campaign donor lists.
“McLeod is either ignorant of the law or he thinks he’s above the law,” Paradise was quoted by Peterson. “We have too many folks in Washington, D.C., that think they’re above the law. We don’t need another one.”
Paradise, a political operative known for participating in hardball campaigns in Kansas and Louisiana, continued to be the frontman for Allen’s attacks against McLeod. He was quoted in nearly every one of the 13 stories critical of McLeod.
As campaign manager, it’s certainly his job to respond to questions, but it’s important to note that the FEC complaint central to much of the reporting was made by Paradise himself, which makes him an independent part of the story he’s consistently commenting on. In effect, he is the reason for those questions so consistently involving McLeod’s apparent wrongdoing.
Which isn’t discounting Peterson’s role in what’s going on. Ultimately, he’s the one writing the stories.
In a July 15 story, titled “Congressional Candidate Wright McLeod Still Hiding the Ball,” Peterson reports on the McLeod campaign conceding to an incomplete reporting of $51,000 identified only as payroll as well as other inadequately described outlays as if McLeod was stonewalling the way Peterson had previously claimed.
With enough raw data, speculation is easy to create, especially in the already murky world of campaign finance.
A look at Allen’s paperwork shows that, in one day, Allen received $4,000 in donations from nine different people in Sunset Hills County Club in Carrollton, Georgia. Carrollton is on the other side of the state, far from District 12.
Of the 17 total donations, which amounted to over $20,000, several were from housewives or the self employed, red flags for the Allen campaign when they were sifting through McLeod’s donors.
Rather than going on the attack himself, McLeod in large part explained his position in these and other issues the Paradise/Peterson team raised — he said a vote for Democrat Bill Richardson in the 2008 Democrat primary was a vote for the lesser evil and told voters that the Democrat candidate for attorney general he and his wife donated $10,000 to was a law school friend — but Peterson continued to hammer away.
In forums and debates, however, McLeod began to shine while Allen often seemed to fumble.
At the West Augusta Alliance forum, for example, Allen looked less than gracious when endeavoring to compare himself to McLeod when it came to military service.
“I congratulate Wright on serving his country,” he said. “I, too, want to serve this country. My military experience is two years of ROTC at Auburn. That was at the end of the Vietnam War. Frankly, there were no opportunities for our folks after school, so I elected to go into the business world.”
A reasonable decision for the 1973 graduate, considering the amount of blood that had yet to be shed before the U.S. fully pulled out of Vietnam in April 1975, but certainly not one most would want to stand up against the decisions made by a combat veteran, especially in a district that includes Fort Gordon and all the current and former service members attached to it.
And for all Allen’s talk of McLeod’s voting record, he has also registered his share of Democratic votes, not to mention a financial donation to Augusta Democrat Champ Walker’s campaign.
Walker is the son of imprisoned state Senator Charles Walker.
It seems clear to many political watchers that the Allen/Peterson/Morris front has invested so much time and effort trying to trip up McLeod that they may actually done the Allen campaign more harm than good. By taking such an aggressive stature and operating as if they were the frontrunner with only one other candidate worthy of fighting, they may have opened of the way for Grovetown farmer Lee Anderson, who despite several poor showings and a general perception that he is often overwhelmed by the issues, has managed to garner considerable support in suburban Columbia County. Combining that with the rural voters who would be his natural constituency, and he could end up surprising a lot of people, at least enough to make it to the runoff.
With four in the race, it’s easy to imagine that no one will earn the 50 percent plus one vote to take him or her over the top.
It also appears increasingly likely that Allen will be hurt by the hotly contested Richmond County sheriff’s race, which seems to be persuading more and more Richmond County Republicans to choose a Democratic primary ballot.
Columbia County Republicans, who will likely favor Anderson or McLeod, won’t be faced with that pressure.
How the final story will be written, however, is anybody’s guess.You Might Also Like: