The Current Crisis

Ganske’s Fire Goes Out

A Republican without fire in his belly is not someone who'll help the GOP win back the Senate.

By 10.23.02

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In a sign that Greg Ganske is going to lose to incumbent Democrat Tom Harkin, the national GOP appears to have given up on the Iowa Senate race. An article in yesterday's Des Moines Register strongly suggests that President Bush will skip Iowa during his campaign swing in the last two weeks of the election. That means, of course, that Republicans -- at least those in the Beltway -- think Ganske has little chance of winning.

They likely noticed Ganske's last ditch attempt to change the issues of the campaign. He is now doing what he should have done three months ago, moving the focus from Democratic strengths like Social Security and education to such issues as energy and human cloning. In what is a pretty clear sign of desperation, Ganske is even trying to link Harkin's past support of welfare benefits for illegal immigrants to the recent tragedy involving 11 illegal immigrants whose remains discovered in a railroad car in Denison, Iowa. It all seems too little, too late.

Ganske already had an issue in the secret taping of one of his private strategy sessions that grew into a scandal in late September. It involved a former Harkin congressional aide, Brian Conley, who taped the meeting with the help of a Harkin campaign staffer, Rafael Ruthchild. Within a week Harkin had semi-apologized, and both Ruthchild and campaign manager Jeff Link had resigned. The fallout appeared to give Ganske a slight boost in the polls. A KCCI-TV poll taken before the scandal showed Harkin leading by twelve points, 52-40%. Another poll taken after the scandal, showed Ganske only down nine, 51-42%.

So why is Ganske not using "Tapegate" as an issue? One reason is that last week the story saw its legs chopped in half when local and federal prosecutors declined to take legal action against the Harkin campaign. Yet there is still the matter of ethics, which would play well here in Iowa, especially in the post-9/11 atmosphere. Yet Ganske has been unwilling to emphasize that aspect in an attempt to keep the story alive. He has not demanded that Conley and Ruthchild -- both of whom have remained silent -- come forward and tell their stories. He has not pressured Harkin to ask them to talk to the media. Neither has he run commercials denouncing dirty tricks, or emphasizing that in the State of Iowa values like integrity and honesty matter.

The reason Ganske hasn't tried to keep Tapegate in front of the public is that he apparently believes that the decision by prosecutors to take no action is the end of it. Consider this exchange between Ganske, Des Moines Register columnist David Yepsen, and Iowa Press host Dean Borg at the third and final debate between Ganske and Harkin:

Yepsen: "I want to move on, Congressman. Since the two of you last met, both the state prosecutors and the federal U.S. attorney for Northern Illinois said no crime was committed in this whole brouhaha with someone from Senator Harkin's campaign taping your campaign meeting. Is that the end of it?"

Ganske: "Well, David, as we know, the Harkin campaign sent an associate into a closed-door meeting with a hidden recorder and then prepared a transcript with the intent to harm our campaign. You know what? Tom has admitted it was a dirty trick. Campaign people have left his campaign. We've got a lot -- we only have about fifteen minutes left in this debate. Let's move on and talk about some of these other issues."

Borg: "Are you going to drop it?"

Ganske: "I'm not planning on doing anything about it." (Italics added.)

Thus Ganske has jettisoned the one issue that had given him new life in favor of "other issues." This is consistent with the lackluster tenor of the Ganske campaign. The question at the heart of the matter is why Ganske has made such a dismal effort? Part of it is no doubt due to personal problems: Ganske's dad, Victor, has been hospitalized with a heart condition. This would dampen anyone's enthusiasm for campaigning.

Yet, another part of it is that Ganske never seemed to have the "fire in the belly" to mount a serious fight. One indication was the problems he had with his organization early in the campaign. In October of last year his campaign manager, Craig Schoenfeld, resigned to take a job in the private sector. Ganske did not replace him until the following January. Then his primary campaign was thrown off stride by upstart Bill Salier. It was not until an April fundraising visit by President Bush that Ganske got his campaign on track. After that, Ganske did go on the attack and bested Salier. Yet this more aggressive stance did not survive the June 4 primary.

Another indication is Ganske's apparent unwillingness to press the flesh. Consider the recent Iowa Christian Coalition dinner. The GOP nominee for governor, Doug Gross, went to every table and shook as many hands as possible. By contrast, Ganske barely moved from his seat. This is consistent with a story about Ganske by Des Moines Register reporter Thomas Beaumont back in May. Beaumont followed Ganske to breakfast at a Country Kitchen in Indianola. According to the article, Ganske "was interrupted when a woman approached his table to say hi and pledge her support, but Ganske finished eating and left after shaking fewer than 10 hands in the packed breakfast spot."

Thus, Ganske's campaign has been plagued throughout by Ganske's apparent lack of interest. Now, at the eleventh hour, he is trying to change the issues of the campaign to immigration, cloning, and energy, while ignoring the one issue, Tapegate, that gave him his best chance. Nationwide, Republicans are hoping to take back the U.S. Senate. Unfortunately, Iowa will not be the place that they do it.

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David Hogberg is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.  Follow David Hogberg on Twitter.