In my TNR profile of John McCain's then-recently installed chief of campaign operations Steve Schmidt, I briefly alluded to a lowly tactic the message guru used back in 1996, when he sent out 60,000 'sex surveys' that attempted to portray then-Congressman Tim Roemer as someone who was using health surveys to pry into the sex lives of adolescents. Schmidt was 25 years old at the time and just getting started in politics. But after yesterday's release of a deeply misleading, McCain campaign-approved ad depicting Senator Barack Obama as an advocate for "comprehensive sex education" for kindergartners, that episode in Schmidt's history is worth re-visiting.
Schmidt's candidate--an Indiana state senator named Joe Zakas--was trailing in the polls when, one week before election day, Schmidt seized on Roemer's vote for a July 1991 amendment to produce a mailer labeled "Tim Roemer's Sex Survey." (One of the 60,000 Indiana 3rd congressional district voters who received the mailer described it as "two pictures of Roemer, two gays embracing, a cover of the current Playboy and--between the gays and the Playmate--a cover of the Bible. Something bad about his values, I guess.") That amendment was overwhelmingly approved in the House, and the questions that Zakas would not say aloud at a press conference because of their "graphic sexual nature" had to pass both an ethics review board and a peer review board before they could be included in what were, after all, health surveys.