GOP Senate Race Goes Nuclear

John Wildermuth
Journalist and Political Commentator

Well that cleared everything up.

Marty Wilson, a top aide to GOP Senate hopeful Carly Fiorina, denied he ever called Tom Campbell an anti-Semite, but he had no problem suggesting that the rival Senate candidate hobnobs with terrorists.

“Tom Campbell has a record that is decidedly anti-Israel and has some very questionable associations,” Wilson told reporters on a conference call Thursday. “The voters of California will decide whether he’s sympathetic to terrorism.”

Of course Team Fiorina will be doing all it can to help voters make that decision as the GOP Senate race goes nuclear.

The hastily called phone conference came after Bruce McPherson, former California secretary of state, told the Los Angeles Times that Wilson had urged him in a call not to support Campbell because “he’s an anti-Semite.”

Wilson said Thursday that he had never spoken to McPherson about Israel and ever so politely suggested that the Santa Cruz Republican was lying for strictly political reasons.

“I never said that about Tom Campbell nor do I believe that about Tom Campbell,” he said. The real reason for McPherson’s charge “was to obscure the fact that (Campbell’s) got a terrible record on Israel.”

Much of Campbell’s “terrible record on Israel” centers on a couple of votes he made while in Congress back in the ‘90s to reduce economic aid to that country. Campbell argued that one of the votes was made to help balance the budget and the other was to reallocate some Israel-bound aid money to poorer nations.

The Israel card is much more likely to be played in a Democratic campaign, largely because the GOP is not the party of choice for most American Jews.

But suggestions of a terrorist connection can do some serious and widespread damage to Campbell and will be much harder to brush aside.

That connection comes from stories that appeared last week on the web sites for The Weekly Standard and Commentary magazines. They described a $1,300 contribution Campbell received for his 2000 Senate race from Sami Al-Arian and mentioned how Campbell had written a letter in support of Al-Arian when he was going to be fired from the University of South Florida and had even visited Al-Arian’s brother-in-law when he was in jail.

Unfortunately for Campbell, in 2006 Al-Arian pleaded guilty to conspiracy to provide services to Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a designated terrorist organization, and was sentenced to more than four years in federal prison.

Fiorina’s campaign helpfully provided information on a trio of other folks with terrorist links who gave money to Campbell in 2000, including Muthanna Al-Hanooti, who was arrested in 2008 for spying on Congress for Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.

Now Campbell argues that none of the men had been arrested for anything when they gave him the money and noted that he received numerous contributions from Arab-Americans in 2000, when Republicans were trying to court Muslim support in those days before 9/11.

“It’s one of those things (Campbell) wishes he hadn’t participated in,” said Jamie Fisfis, Campbell’s spokesman.

You think?

Fiorina has already said in a statement that she is “deeply troubled by these reports” and that she is “an unwavering supporter of Israel.”

Irvine Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, the third person in the GOP contest, had even more fun with the story, with his spokesman Joshua Trevino calling Campbell “a friend to our foes” and suggesting he was “fellow traveling” with the American Islamist Movement.

For his part, Campbell issued a long, convoluted explanation of the legal issues that led to his involvement with Al-Arian, adding later that if he knew then what he knows now, he would have had nothing to do with Al-Arian.

Again, you think?

There’s a lot to what Campbell says. It would be wrong, un-American even, to refuse to accept campaign money from anyone with an Arabic name. There has never been a way for any candidate to vet all the thousands of people who send money to his campaign or stand next to him for a picture. And it is unfair for a campaign to be held responsible for what happens to their donors years later.

Still, this isn’t something Campbell is going to be able to just shrug aside and ignore, even in the unlikely event that Fiorina and DeVore would let him. His links to Al-Arian, at least, go well beyond merely getting a campaign check in the mail.

The question of what he knew and when he knew it is a legitimate issue and one that resonates with voters, especially in a GOP primary. Which is why Campbell needs to lay everything about the Al-Arian affair out on the table – and quickly.


John Wildermuth is a longtime writer on California politics.

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