- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 3, 2002

The odds in favor of Republican Rep. Greg Ganske unseating Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin in Iowa may be improving, as the result of an unfolding scandal and purported cover-up involving the Harkin campaign.
"And like most political disasters, the cover-up is becoming more important than the original transgression," said Kayne Robinson, former Iowa Republican Party chairman.
The original transgression took place Sept. 3, when 53-year-old businessman Brian Conley by his own admission secretly taped a Ganske campaign strategy session. Mr. Conley, a former Harkin staffer, gave a transcript of the meeting to Mr. Harkin's campaign, which then released it to the press.
This was followed by Harkin campaign denials, then admissions of guilt and the firing of the Harkin campaign manager and a 21-year-old campaign staffer. Now county and federal authorities are investigating the matter.
Sources close to the investigation said Mr. Conley has sought immunity in exchange for revealing what he knows. But the county prosecutor's office said it has given immunity in only one case, a murder trial. Republicans fear the county prosecutor, a Democrat, has little incentive to find criminal wrongdoing in the case.
"For Republicans, Tom Harkin is the most hated Democrat in Iowa, but you have some Republicans so upset with Ganske they just throw up their hands," said a national Republican official who lives in Iowa. "Ganske got on crosswise with his conservative base, has a mixed record on guns and abortion, and supported campaign-finance reform."
Other Republican officials say Mr. Ganske has campaigned hard and that the scandal is making the race even more competitive. But it will not be a slam-dunk for Republicans in November unless it can be shown Mr. Harkin was part of the original taping plot, or of what Republicans are now calling a "cover-up" by the Harkin campaign.
"This Conley guy's connection was not to the campaign but directly to Harkin," said Marlys Popma, the Iowa Republican Party executive director. "He was a Harkin staffer in 1974, and for anybody to think something like this could have gone on without Harkin knowing is naive."
State Rep. Chuck Larson, who is also the Iowa Republican Party chairman, says that while campaign dirty tricks may not shock voters in states with large urban populations, Iowa voters tend to take cheating seriously, especially if laws are broken in the process.
So far, however, the scandal does not appear to have hurt Mr. Harkin, except to throw him off message and put his campaign on the defensive. A four-day Des Moines Register poll of 805 likely voters, initiated the day after the taping scandal broke, found Mr. Ganske still trailing Mr. Harkin by 20 percentage points, about the same margin as in a June poll.
A Sept. 18-19 poll by a Republican firm of 400 likely voters, however, had Mr. Harkin ahead by only four percentage points, and actually behind Mr. Ganske among voters 65 and older.
Republicans say cover-up revelations could still make the contest more competitive, especially as voters become more aware of possible criminal implications.
Under Iowa and federal law, it is a crime to intercept a private conversation for purposes of injuring someone, and in this case, Republicans say the Ganske campaign clearly was injured.
The tape transcript portrays Mr. Ganske as a negative campaigner, quotes him accusing a wire-service reporter of bias and reveals planned campaign themes.
Some Republican officials say voters will understand that the taping couldn't have taken place without the knowledge or direction of Mr. Harkin.
"The keeper of all secrets is Tom Harkin, and that is where law enforcement has to go," said Mr. Larson. "Senator Harkin has tried to lead Iowans to believe that a 21-year-old staffer directed a 53-year-old corporate executive to change his voter registration from Democrat to Republican, make a $50 contribution to the Ganske campaign, and secretly tape a private Ganske strategy meeting and give the transcript to Harkin's campaign."
Mr. Larson continued: "When we started uncovering the scandal, we were met with lies and denials by the Harkin campaign, and only when we confronted them with concrete evidence did the Harkin campaign manager admit his campaign had received a transcription and distributed it to the press. And only when presented with evidence of collusion did Senator Harkin admit that a junior campaign staffer had orchestrated this political espionage."

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