Wednesday, August 20, 2008

100% committed or a step too far?

I’ve been wondering when challenger Steve Kerrigan would start taking it to Representative Hank Naughton in their primary contest. I guess the answer is "August 19."

Kerrigan has been beating Naughton in the mail and on the ground—I’ve received five or six fancy, designed brochures from Kerrigan compared to one misprinted postcard from Naughton, and Kerrigan leads 2-1 in visits to the homestead—but he hasn’t been either specific about his plans for the House or willing to contrast his vision of government with Naughton’s. It’s been my thought all along that a challenger can only get so far without making a direct contrast with the incumbent. In short, you have to knock the champ out.

But I figured that if Kerrigan started to draw contrasts with the incumbent, he’d do so around specific votes or issues, or even the old rumors that Naughton may be looking for greener pastures in the judiciary. I didn’t think he’d go there:
“I have a 100 percent commitment to serve, 24-7, and I’m not starting as a traditional freshman because I’ve had to deal with all the issues before,” Mr. Kerrigan said...

Mr. Kerrigan pointed out that Mr. Naughton, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, which handles money, was absent on July 3, the day the $28 billion state budget was voted on.
Let me be more precise. I’m not surprised that Kerrigan is mentioning his “100 percent commitment” because this has been his one consistent overriding message. While he doesn’t say so directly, readers and listeners are left to infer that Kerrigan doesn’t think Naughton is as committed to being a representative as he should be. But I am surprised that Kerrigan would use a vote that Naughton missed while serving in the Army Reserves as evidence:
Mr. Naughton, 47, who joined the U.S. Army Reserves in 2003 and did an eight-month tour of duty in Iraq in 2005 and 2006, said yesterday he was on reserve training at the time of the vote.

“I filed my (yes) vote with the clerk, and everyone was aware of what my vote was,” he said.
I just can’t imagine why Kerrigan would pin Naughton down as being less than 100% because he spends a couple of weeks a year with the armed forces, but there you are. Perhaps the item was taken out of context—I tend to arch my eyebrows a little bit when a reporter relays an assertion this specific as a narrative rather than using a quote—or perhaps Kerrigan didn’t realize that Naughton was serving that week. I don’t know. But using one’s military service as a reason he should not be reelected is pretty risky business.

(For what it’s worth, the reason for Naughton’s absence should have been clear. On June 10, the Clinton Item reported that he would be sent on active duty to the United Nations and Fort Dix during the summer. I can also vouch for the representative. I emailed him of June 29 to start the process of scheduling our forum in Sterling and he replied on July 6, apologizing for the delay as he away from email on active duty.)

It will be interesting to see how the campaign sharpens over these last four weeks. Based on a couple of his answers at our forum last week, it sounded like Naughton was aware of the criticism that he is not “100 percent committed.” I wonder if using the Naughton’s military service as an example is taking that criticism a step too far.

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