Political campaigns have degenerated into a slightly more refined version of mud wrestling.
State Sen. Michael Frerichs has hit the political jackpot.
The Champaign Democrat collaborated last week with the Republican candidate he wanted to run against (John Bambenek) to embarrass the Republican candidate he didn't want to run against (Alan Nudo).
The issue the pair raised (a 2006 campaign contribution to Frerichs) was not just inconsequential but inaccurate. But it so got under Nudo's thin skin that he suddenly pulled out of the March primary race for the Republican nomination in the 52nd Senate District.
How do we know it was false? Bambenek Tuesday admitted as much.
"After having reviewed all the available information about the campaign contributions from Triple R Development to Mike Frerichs, I am convinced that Mr. Nudo played no role in the donation and is neither an owner nor a decision-maker in Triple R Development," Bambenek said.
He wasn't nearly so fastidious about the details last week when he accused Nudo of being the mastermind behind $5,000 in donations from Triple R Development, a company co-owned by Kyle Robeson and close Frerichs' relatives Lawrence and Kenneth Roessler.
In his role as president of Robeson's Inc., Nudo acknowledged that he signs checks for Triple R. But he said the donated money was not his own and that, in signing the Frerichs checks, he was carrying out the wishes of his employers.
Bambenek said last week he made the charge after he "consulted with Mike Frerichs regarding the facts."
"I am not about to lay inaccurate or wrongheaded criticism against my opponent without getting the facts first," Bambenek said.
Nudo, considered the more popular choice of the two GOP candidates, was the preferred candidate of the local and state GOP establishment. In withdrawing as he did, Nudo has let down many.
Nudo concedes that he does not have the stomach to endure the kind of negative campaigning so common in elections today, but one wonders how he could have been so naive as to not know what he was getting into.
While Frerichs gloats, Bambenek is hoping that Republicans will unite behind his candidacy. That's less than certain.
Locally, Nudo supporters will have a bad taste in their mouths over what happened. Many will either sit out the election or support Frerichs. On a statewide basis, Republican leaders are likely to write off the 52nd District as hopelessly lost and focus their financial resources elsewhere.
While Nudo showed himself to be a candidate who couldn't take the heat, both Bambenek and Frerichs proved they aren't above misleading the electorate.
Bambenek already has conceded his errors.
As for Frerichs, he'll deny any impropriety. But he pretty much conceded he prefers running against Bambenek when he stated that "John and I have a similar interest but from a different perspective."
He also engaged in rhetorical misdirection by suggesting Nudo claimed he played no role in the donation.
"[I]t is inaccurate to say that he had nothing to do with the contributions," Frerichs said of Nudo, effectively accusing Nudo of saying what Nudo had never said.
Frerichs is an intelligent, ambitious politico who wants to move up the political pecking order. He makes a good impression, but beneath the impressive veneer beats the heart of an office seeker who will do what it takes to win.
This latest episode is a reminder of Frerichs' first political campaign, when he challenged then-state Rep. Tim Johnson in an Illinois House race. Frerichs cited what he called Johnson's lack of interest in the job by noting that Johnson had dropped his committee assignments. Further proof of Johnson's negligence, Frerichs said, was the fact that Johnson didn't even have a district legislative office.
Johnson didn't have a legislative office in the district. He used his downtown Urbana law office as a joint law/legislative office to save taxpayers' money, and that office was roughly a block from the border of his House district.
Frerichs' charge against Johnson was technically accurate, but intentionally misleading.
That's what passes for political debate these days, and those vying for political office will draw two lessons from the Nudo fiasco.
Lesson 1. Many politicians will do whatever it takes to win.
Lesson 2. Questionable tactics often work.