Sunday, Jun 24, 2018
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'Nasty' campaign divides southeast Ohio



ATHENS, Ohio - One of the nation's nastiest campaigns has divided a quiet corner of Appalachia, a place usually immune to political venom thanks to its neighborly ways.

This year is different because Terry Anderson, one of the region's most storied residents, is running for state Senate in southeastern Ohio.

Mr. Anderson, 57, a former foreign correspondent for the Associated Press, became famous after Shiite Hezbollah terrorists kidnapped him and held him hostage in Lebanon for almost seven years.

To counter Mr. Anderson's celebrity, Republican incumbent Sen. Joy Padgett has accused him of anti-American behavior. Her specific charge, ironically, is that he is soft on terrorists.

Senator Padgett, also 57, sent out campaign mailings this month showing Mr. Anderson with a Hezbollah terrorist leader. She called Mr. Anderson "part of the 'Blame America' crowd" that is sympathetic to Mideast thugs intent on hurting Americans.

To support her claim, she mentioned a comment Mr. Anderson made during a seminar at Ohio University soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Then a university professor, Mr. Anderson asked students whether U.S. policies might have ignited hatred in the Arab world. His comment, printed in the campus newspaper three years ago, has become a centerpiece of Ms. Padgett's attacks on him.

Her campaign flyer suggests that only a man out of touch with Ohio values would mingle with a terrorist and question U.S. foreign policy.

Missing from Ms. Padgett's advertisement was any mention that the terrorist pictured with Mr. Anderson was the secretary general of Hezbollah, the group that abducted him in 1985. Mr. Anderson confronted and interviewed the terrorist leader for a television documentary years after he was freed.

"He and his brothers were the ones who kidnapped me, chained me, blindfolded me, and beat me," Mr. Anderson said. "My political opponent uses a picture of that interview to try to win an election."

After complaining that Ms. Padgett will do or say anything, Mr. Anderson walked out of a debate with her in Marietta..

Since then, he has refused to appear with Ms. Padgett and said he will never speak to her again.

"What she did is cheap crap," Mr. Anderson said. "If she wanted to know what I think of terrorists, all she had to do is ask me. I don't like them. I've seen the evil they do."

Ms. Padgett did not respond to requests for an interview.

Instead, Scott Borgemenke, the strategist for Republican Senate candidates in Ohio, said the campaign attacks on Mr. Anderson are designed to show voters that he is "a liberal university professor" whose values do not match those of voters in Ohio's 20th Senate District.

The other objective is to paint Mr. Anderson as a carpetbagger. "He voted in only two of 12 possible elections before he became a candidate," Mr. Borgemenke said. "He came in from New York, looking to set up in a congressional district where he could run. This office would be a stepping-stone for him, and I don't think he's denied that."

Mr. Anderson, though, said he has no interest in higher office.

"If he thinks I'm getting political ambitions at 57, he's crazy. I don't need a political career. I'm running for the state Senate because I think I can help people and do some good."

Until this election, Ms. Padgett had the image of a kind and courteous elementary schoolteacher, her former profession.

"I've seen her throughout her career, and she was always this nice, smiling lady at banquets," said Matt Hinds, 36, a dairy farmer from West Lafayette.

"Then, all at once, came all this ugliness."

Mr. Hinds, formerly a Republican, switched to the Democratic Party and said he will vote for Mr. Anderson on Tuesday.

Asked what he liked about the candidate, Mr. Hinds said: "His story. He suffered."

Mr. Anderson, a Marine for six years during the Vietnam era, studied journalism after the war. He became the AP's chief Mideast correspondent in 1983.

Hezbollah members linked to Iran kidnapped Mr. Anderson from a street corner in Beirut on March 16, 1985. They imprisoned him until Dec. 4, 1991.

Mr. Anderson is one of Appalachia's multimillionaires, mostly because of his ordeal. He won a judgment of more than $340 million against Iran for his years in captivity. Later, he collected a smaller but unspecified amount after Congress approved legislation allowing victims of terrorism to receive damages from Iranian assets frozen in the United States.

Though wealthy, Mr. Anderson cannot spend lavishly to win this election.

Ohio law restricts candidates from spending more than $50,000 of their own money in one campaign. Mr. Anderson said he expects Republicans to pour more than $1 million into Ms. Padgett's campaign, at least double what he will raise.

The nine-county Senate district has a history of conservatism. A Democrat has not won it since 1972.

Brian Davis, a professor of political science at Ohio University in Athens, said Mr. Anderson could break the streak.

"He brings star power to the race," Mr. Davis said. "Usually a Republican would win fairly overwhelmingly."

Mr. Borgemenke calls the Anderson-Padgett race the most competitive of Ohio's Senate elections. Overall, Republicans control the state Senate 22-11.

Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Milan Simonich is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.

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