Debates are big opportunities for heavy underdogs, but too often the desparation for attention of any sort during a brief moment in the spotlight leads to cheap shots. Remember Christopher Reed calling Tom Harkin "the Tokyo Rose of Al-Qaida?"
Well, Tom Fiegen's big accomplishment at this morning's debate was to give Chuck Grassley a talking point. Rather than focusing on issue differences (which frankly, other than Fiegen's anti-choice stance, are small between the three contenders), Fiegen took a personal shot at Jim and Roxanne Conlin's business finances. Team Grassley quickly rewrote that into a press release with the line "forced by a Democratic opponent" in paragraph one.
Thanks, Tom, for giving the Republicans ammo to shoot at the certain nominee. "The winner of that exchange was Grassley," writes the Reg's Kathie Obradovich. "He should send Fiegen a thank-you note."
On the plus side, I don't remember Grassley having to attack Jean Lloyd-Jones or Dave Osterberg or Art Small, bless them all, this early in the cycle, because none of them had Grassley under 50 percent. And Team Roxanne shot right back:
"It is just shameful that Senator Grassley would make such a misleading attack," said Mark Daley, Conlin's campaign manager. "Roxanne's family has created hundreds of jobs in Iowa building and maintaining low and moderate income housing for thousands of Iowa families. After 36 years in Washington, it's not surprising that Senator Charles Grassley decided to attack Roxanne Conlin. That's what they do in Washington: sit back, make false, personal attacks and focus on the next election instead of the next generation. The Conlins have paid every penny of taxes they have ever owed."The reply is to Grassley's release, of course, and not to Fiegen's debate attack.
Grassley, a career politician, became a multimillionaire over 51 years of receiving paychecks funded by taxpayers. In addition, his family has received more than a million dollars in farm subsidies
Such an attack is not unheard of in this rough business, but Fiegen of late seems to seethe with resentment of Conlin, either for being more financial successful than he is or more politically successful or both. That played out on the pre-debate stage today, as Obradovich details the intensity ploys of Drama King Fiegen. The photo says even more, as Fiegen, who's a big guy, jabs fingers in Conlin's face while poor Bob Krause literally rolls his eyes.
Or, as O. Kay Henderson said: "My parents would have put it this way: Tom Fiegen 'threw a kitten fit' right before show time because he couldn’t have his huge stack of notes on the set."
I understand his frustration, and Krause's (though Krause is much more good-natured about it.) Both of them were out there early when Grassley seemed invincible, then once things looked good Conlin stepped on them. But it wasn't Krause and Fiegen that damaged Grassley's lifelong aw-shucks brand. Chuck did that all by himself, and Democrats needed someone who was capable of taking advantage of the unexpected opportunity.
But today Tom Fiegen forgot Sinead O'Connor's advice and hurt his own team rather than fighting the real enemy.