Political desperation is the mother of campaign sleaze -- as J. Kenneth Blackwell, the Republican nominee for Ohio governor, and the national Republican Party demonstrated last week.
In this space last Sunday, Republicans in Columbiana County were warned not to spring an "October surprise" on Ted Strickland, the Democratic nominee for governor, unless they had "more than the dung that was flung at Strickland in the past."
Well, the dung was flung -- but not by some nitwit GOP operative in a rural county or by some high-paid political assassin.
It was Blackwell, Ohio's secretary of state and former state treasurer, who surprised the political world by bringing up stuff about Strickland, the 6th District congressman, that was spewed four years ago and again in the May Democratic primary.
And no, Blackwell didn't have anything new, nor did he have the courage to state publicly what he was implying. Instead, he not only brought up the stuff during the gubernatorial debate Monday, but his campaign followed up with press releases that kept up the attacks -- again without any new information or without saying what Blackwell was alleging.
And politicians wonder why voters stay away from the polls on election day.
Until Monday, the campaign for governor had been conducted on a fairly high plane. Even while disagreeing on some key issues, the Republican and Democratic nominees steered clear of personal attacks.
But now, with polls showing him with a double-digit deficit, Blackwell has turned to campaign sleaze in a desperate attempt to turn his political fortunes around. It won't work.
Likewise, the national Republican Party, in a desperate attempt to prop up Ohio Sen. Mike DeWine's collapsing campaign, launched a television commercial attack against Democrat Sherrod Brown, the congressman from the 13th District.
The ads claimed that Brown did not pay his unemployment taxes for 13 years. But the state of Ohio said the claim was untrue.
Indeed, after details of the tax case were made public and several television stations pulled the ads, the national GOP refused to do so. It was only after close to a dozen stations yanked the patently untrue commercials that the Republican National Committee announced the ads would be withdrawn.
There was no excuse for the RNC to drag its feet -- especially after state officials made it clear that the allegations were false.
It is not surprising that the Democratic Party jumped on this issue. It served to spotlight the desperation in the Republican ranks.
"It shouldn't have taken a cacophony of negative news coverage to shame Mike DeWine and the national GOP into taking this blatantly false attack ad off the air," said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Phil Singer.
What is even more revealing about the campaign ad flap is that of the 10 stations that pulled the commercials, eight are in Columbus and Cincinnati. The remaining two are in Dayton.
Columbus and Cincinnati aren't exactly centers of liberal politics.
The problem with what Blackwell did in resurrecting the old charges against Strickland and what the GOP did with the Brown tax-scofflaw ads is that those onslaughts failed to give the Blackwell and DeWine campaigns traction and, in fact, turned off voters.
The Columbus Dispatch reported that senior citizens who had gathered in a hall to watch the gubernatorial debate reacted negatively when Blackwell took the low road.
Last Sunday's column did not suggest that a candidate's past actions are off limits. Indeed, everything about an individual running for office -- especially for high office -- is fair game. But what was argued is that without any new information or new details of what was being alleged about Strickland, Republicans risked a backlash from the voters if the attacks were seen as nothing more than politics by innuendo.
So, how did Strickland, a psychologist by profession, react to the latest onslaught? In a quiet, dignified manner, he offered this gem:
"I've won elections and I've lost elections. Losing is not fun. ... There's something worse than losing an election and that is losing your integrity."
If someone advised Blackwell to jump on the dung heap, that person deserves to be fired. If, on the other hand, the Republican nominee decided on his own to take the road better not traveled, he needs to do some soul-searching -- with the help of the evangelicals that he touts as being his most ardent supporters.