The GOP questions Herron’s manliness

Sunday, December 13, 2009 at 11:45pm
State Sen. Roy Herron has not commented on latest GOP e-mails that can be viewed as questioning his manliness.

State Sen. Roy Herron has been vilified daily by Republicans since entering Tennessee’s 8th District congressional race with the sudden retirement of 20-year incumbent John Tanner.

That’s no surprise given today’s cutthroat politics. As a legislator since 1987, Herron has cast thousands of votes, many of which now supply ammo for operatives predictably trying to tar the senator as a liberal wacko. But even veteran observers of campaign mud baths have been taken aback by one line of attack, and some say it crosses the threshold of acceptability.

In e-mails to Tennessee media, the National Republican Congressional Committee is questioning Herron’s manliness, suggesting he’s effeminate and possibly even gay — a serious slur in the Land of Bubba that is West Tennessee’s largely rural 8th District.

Tennessee Democrats constantly worry they’ll appear out of step with the state’s conservative constituents. The parking spots reserved for Democrats in the Legislative Plaza’s underground garage commonly are occupied by pickup trucks with bumper stickers pledging allegiance to guns, God and country.

Herron, a former Methodist minister and teacher at Vanderbilt divinity school, has been married for 22 years and is the father of three sons. On the stump, he emphasizes his own macho pursuits.

“I majored in basketball and duck hunting in high school,” he told listeners recently. “I would have majored in girls, but I had glasses and braces and acne, and that didn’t work out.”

But in presenting the senator as a wuss, the NRCC has seized on comments Herron made on his campaign blog about physical fitness and his love of running.

“Rather than protecting small businesses, rather than protecting taxpayers, he often seems more interested in watching what he eats, making sure he’s jogging enough miles every day, and just watching his body image very closely,” NRCC spokesman Andy Seré told blogger Eric Kleefeld, who was the first to point out anti-gay innuendo in NRCC press releases about Herron.

Accompanied by a picture of Herron in running shorts, one of Seré’s e-mails slapped the Democrat for opposing a ban on gay adoption and gratuitously brought up Barney Frank, the famously gay congressman from Massachusetts.

“With a record like Roy’s, Barney Frank isn’t going to be able to out-position him on the left,” Seré wrote.

Another Seré release with the same photo read, “Roy Herron is a career politician. And a lawyer. And a Vanderbilt professor. And an author. But he’s not a businessman. So why can’t Roy Herron just be straight with West and Middle Tennesseans and admit it?”

Seré’s attacks have been vague enough to allow for deniability, however implausibly, and he told The City Paper it’s “categorically absurd” to accuse him of running an anti-gay smear campaign against Herron.

But political scientists point out it’s a legerdemain long practiced in campaigns: Plant a slanderous seed in the minds of voters while denying you’re doing it, then hope it grows and bears fruit on election day.

Herron’s likely Republican opponent is a farmer and gospel music singer named Steve Fincher from the community of Frog Jump, Tenn. His Web site features a picture of a John Deere tractor.

“I do think it crosses a line in terms of general acceptability,” Rhodes College professor Marcus Pohlmann said of Seré’s attacks. “It does not speak well of the extreme right wing of the Republican Party that candidates feel they can make inroads there with such pandering.”

Meanwhile, in an e-mail to The City Paper, MTSU professor John Vile said the NRCC’s tactics could backfire.

“Because of the appearance of hypocrisy, an individual who has taught divinity is arguably more vulnerable to attacks on lifestyle and moral issues than one who has not (just as Sarah Palin’s home life is more of a target because she emphasizes its wholesomeness), but only if the claims are actually credible (and I see no evidence that those against Herron are) and don’t smear the one throwing the mud as much as the target.”

Herron himself isn’t commenting. In a statement, his campaign castigates Republicans for “trying to demonize” the “Eagle Scout” and “family man,” adding “Surely, their mothers raised them better.”

11 Comments on this post:

By: shucks on 12/14/09 at 7:19

So long as the media gleefully publishes garbage, political operatives will feed them plenty of it.

By: vechester on 12/14/09 at 8:08

Amen the that! Politics National Enquirer style. How about devoting at least part of the article on how Herron has voted in the past. Somewhere in the second paragraph, Woods suggests that there is plenty of voting history on Herron to show where he stands on issues. I wish he would have written just a small paragraph detailing some of that.

By: jwk6179 on 12/14/09 at 9:29

Another Seré release with the same photo read, “Roy Herron is a career politician. And a lawyer. And a Vanderbilt professor. And an author. But he’s not a businessman. So why can’t Roy Herron just be straight with West and Middle Tennesseans and admit it?”

I know a lot of Republicans that CAREER POLITICANS and LAWYERS. So does that make them GAY also?

By: pswindle on 12/14/09 at 9:29

Herron must have voted for issues and bills that helped Tennessee. For the GOP to go after looks and not substance, he must be a winner. The other parts of the country have found out that personal destruction does not work, but TN is far behind the standards. In a country where exercise and eating right should be a plus, Tn hangs on to you must eat grease and fatty foods to not be gay. I hope TN wakes up and we elect the ones that are good for the state, and leave this tacky stuff alone. I remember the nasty stuff when they went after Harold and Al. Tn must rise above this personal assassination.

By: jwk6179 on 12/14/09 at 9:44

It's funny, when a Democrat is in office for more than a couple of terms, they are labeled CAREER POLITICANS, i.e. Al Gore, Bob Clement, Bart Gordon, Jim Cooper, etc. Yet even when a Republican is in the SAME OFFICE for over 20 years, THEY ARE NEVER REFERED TO AS A CAREER POLITICANS. Bob Dole was the REPUBLICAN SENATOR from KANSAS for almost 40 YEARS, yet I NEVER HEARD ANYONE refer to him as a CAREER POLITICAN. Why is that?

By: on 12/14/09 at 10:04

Okay, how about Robert Byrd or Ted Kennedy? That's just off the top of my head. I'm sure if given some thought there are some other great examples.

By: jwk6179 on 12/14/09 at 10:29

I never said that Robert Byrd and Ted Kennedy weren't CAREER POLITICANS. In fact, I've heard both of them refered to as CAREER POLITICANS on several occassions.

I grew up in Knoxville and lived there until I moved to Middle Tennessee in the mid-80's. John Duncan was the US Representative from the 2nd Congressinal District from 1964 until his death in 1988. His son, John Duncan, Jr., has been the represented the 2nd District since his dad's death through the present. Yet, neither one of them has ever been refered to as a CAREER POLITICAN. I know that John Duncan, Sr. was the Mayor of Knoxville before he became a Congressman. I have no earthly IDEAL what John Duncan, Jr. did before he took his Dad's place in Washington. That sounds like a CAREER POLITICAN to me!!

By: on 12/14/09 at 11:21

jwk6179, I think we're saying the same thing. I am not a Republican. I agree with you about Career Politicians. Maybe the Dems just don't want to point it out, because there are more career politicians in their midst. I don't know, but I am a strong advocate for term limits.: One Term, then get the hell out. I'm sick of politicians calling themselves "Public Servants." They don't care one iota about the people they represent. Once elected, their number one priority becomes getting re-elected, and the voters get hosed. The sad thing is there are so many people who believe that all congressmen and senators are crooks, except for Theirs. So many voters are self-centered and vote for whoever will do the most for them, or give them the most "stuff.". They aren't the least bit concerned about the good of the country. What ever happened to "Ask Not What You're Country Can Do for You, Ask What You Can Do for Your Country?" If I remember correctly, that is a quote by a very famous Democrat. I don't see too many voters, especially democrats voting that way.

By: jwk6179 on 12/14/09 at 1:25

It's easy to misunderstand what someone is saying or meant to say when you post in a blog. I thought you were DEFENDING the REPUBILICANS who HOLD OFFICE for an extented number of years while bashing the DEMOCRATS who do the same. I live in Bart Gordon's House District and it makes me sick when I hear the Ralph Bristols, Michael Del Giornos, Steve Gills and Phil Valentines refer to him as a CAREER POLITICAN and telling the listeners that the RESIDENTS of the 6th District are stupid to KEEP ELECTING Bart Gordon without mentioning the fact the last opponent Bart Gordon had was Steve Gill in 1996. He has VIRTUALLY RAN UNOPPOSED since 1996. You can't vote him out if NO ONE RUNS AGAINST HIM.

By: on 12/14/09 at 3:01

We end up getting the government we truly deserve.

By: RobertMays on 12/4/11 at 12:19

That is known that cash makes us disembarrass. But what to do if someone doesn't have money? The one way is to receive the business loans or small business loan.