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Associated Press/Photo by Jae C. Hong

Digging for dirt

Campaign 2010 | Democrats hope verbal gaffes will derail Republican candidates' midterm momentum

Republicans hope that a tide of anti-incumbent sentiment will sweep many political newcomers into office in November. But what the Democrats are counting on is that these newcomers haven't been fully vetted and that aggressive opposition research will knock the GOP freight train off the rails.

The Washington Post recently reported that the Democrats are "moving faster and more aggressively than in previous election years to dig up unflattering details about Republican challengers."

Conservative activist Gary Bauer said he is not surprised: "The Democrats can't campaign on hope and change any more, so they are resorting to slash and burn tactics and dirty tricks."

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According to Larry Hart, director of the American Conservative Union, these types of tactics are not unique to one political party but they have "exploded into something that an awful lot of campaigns do now."

For example, this summer the Democratic National Committee launched "The Accountability Project," which is described on the DNC website as a "grassroots, volunteer project to hold Republican candidates accountable for their claims, their public statements, and their campaign tactics." But the Democratic Party's blog puts it more bluntly, saying it is "the latest step to hold Republicans accountable for their attempts to mislead the American people."

The project's web page features a calendar of upcoming events where Republicans will be appearing and asks people to go armed with a video camera or a recording device to document what is said. Democrats hope such tactics will catch a Republican in a "Macaca Moment," named after a 2006 incident involving former GOP Sen. George Allen of Virginia, who called a Democratic operative following him with a camera "macaca," a racial slur. The widely circulated video derailed Allen's reelection bid and took him out of the running for a possible bid for the White House.

Hart said that because "people were able to change the nature of a campaign" with the Allen video, the quest for such gaffes has "become very pervasive this year." But Hart added that he doesn't see why such tactics should be a problem for conservatives, emphasizing that "candidates need to be and should be careful about what they say."

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