Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, the Republican candidate who is facing Democrat Tom O'Halleran in Congressional District 1, has been hammered throughout the campaign for his history as a headmaster at a Massachusetts school for troubled youth some 16 years ago.
Several of Babeu's GOP primary opponents hit him for his past support of what certainly appear to be the school's abusive practices, but he still emerged on top of a crowded primary with one-third of the vote. But it didn't take long for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to weigh in with their own ad highlighting Babeu's sketchy past.
Babeu called the press together yesterday in an effort to proclaim his innocence, but news outlets haven't exactly exonerated him. You can see the Arizona Republic's coverage here.
Babeu offered some 1,700 pages of background material for the press to examine that he claimed would show his innocence. TW has not yet received a copy of the campaign's flash drive but has requested from Team Babeu, so I have not reviewed what he offered.
But the fundamental problem for Babeu in this conversation is a videotape of Babeu himself praising some of the abusive techniques. The tape was made by Babeu's sister Lucy, who has a strained relationship with her brother. She provided it to ABC-15 Dave Biscobing, who has been covering Babeu's history at the school for years.
In the video, Babeu describes one of the techniques called "cornering," which involved forcing kids to sit in chairs facing the corner of a room and not allowing them to them to interact with anyone else at the school. Babeu says in the video that the school's students “need to feel hopeless and feel depression and complete failure.”
Babeu has said that he was not prosecuted for any wrongdoing and, at other times, said he was unaware of the disciplinary techniques, but the videotape shows that he was aware of at least some of them and defended them. At the press conference yesterday, he said that he no longer supported that kind of disciplinary action.
Beyond his sister's damning videotape, Babeu has other problems. The DCCC is willing to spend to amplify this story, while the National Republican Campaign Committee has not reserved ad time to defend him. Nor has Babeu put together some kind of TV ad to defend himself. And that means that voters in CD1, which stretches from Oro Valley and Marana all the way to Flagstaff and includes much of rural Eastern Arizona, are getting just one side of the story—and it's not the side that favors Babeu.
CD1, which is now represented by Democratic Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick (who is giving up the seat to challenge Sen. John McCain), is one of the most competitive in the country. In past cycles, the NRCC has been willing to invest in candidates, so the fact that the committee is not spending this time suggests that polling is not in Babeu's favor.
Meanwhile, O'Halleran—a retired Chicago cop and former Republican state lawmaker—is up on the air today with a positive ad stressing his support of ethics reform, an obvious effort to set up a comparison between himself and Babeu.