WASHINGTON – One political observer described the 4th District congressional race as “a circus marked by crude mudslinging” — and that was before challenger John Kimble offered $5,000 for information that puts his opponent in jail.
Kimble’s “unconventional” campaign takes another step toward national notoriety Thursday with a segment scheduled to air on Comedy Central, which will feature the GOP nominee screaming obscenities in public places, shouting accusations against his opponent and raking leaves on the streets.
“We decided to cover Kimble’s campaign because it is the only congressional race in the country where the wife of a congressman is heading the campaign of his opponent,” said Evan Cutler, field producer for “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”
Cutler was referring to Jessie Wynn, chairwoman of Kimble’s campaign and ex-wife of Rep. Al Wynn, D-Largo, the incumbent in the majority-black 4th District.
Mrs. Wynn made headlines this summer for Kimble — who is white — with tape-recorded telephone messages in which she told 4th District voters that “Albert Wynn does not respect black women. He left me for a white woman.” The Wynns are black.
That was followed by other messages, in which she claimed Wynn had all the furniture hauled away from their house and stopped paying the mortgage. Kimble’s campaign web site suggested that Wynn was a child abuser and Mrs. Wynn said her ex-husband threatened her life in front of their 6-year-old daughter.
That final allegation landed the Wynns in court earlier this month, when a Calvert County Circuit judge admonished each parent to stop demeaning the other in front of their daughter. The judge also awarded Mr. Wynn a greater share of the custody of their daughter, equal to the time his ex-wife has the girl, which the congressman called a repudiation of the “wild accusations” made against him by the Kimble campaign.
The congressman flatly denied the charges leveled against him by his ex- wife and Kimble, before he stopped responding to them altogether.
“It’s annoying and frustrating,” said Wynn. “But the support I get from the citizens of my district is very comforting. Their hugs, prayers and trust mean a lot to me. It really does.”
But Kimble’s accusations have attracted attention well beyond the district. Besides the upcoming Comedy Central piece, stories have appeared in The Arizona Republic, The Atlanta Journal, The New York Times and NBC television, among other outlets.
Wynn called the ongoing media coverage “unfortunate.” Other political observers have stronger words.
“Kimble’s is not a campaign. It’s a circus marked by crude mudslinging,” said Blair Lee IV, a columnist for the Montgomery Journal newspaper and longtime Maryland political observer.
“The media has failed in its role as a policeman. Giving coverage to such tactics, especially just two weeks before the elections can have negative effects,” Lee said. “The media, who usually are careful in what they cover, have failed on this occasion.”
But James Gimpel, a professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland, said mudslinging may be the only hope for Kimble, a white Republican running in district that is overwhelmingly black and Democratic.
“As long as congressional districts are skewed to one population, people like Kimble have no other option but to stoop down to such depths,” Gimpel said. “It just becomes a lopsided contest.
“The 4th District is a classic example. We’ve got a desperate challenger who’s trying to win, but he just can’t,” Gimpel said. “The only way Kimble can win is if Wynn dies. So he’s understandably desperate.”
Kimble upped the ante this week, when he offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to Wynn’s arrest and conviction for felony sexual abuse and illicit drug use. Kimble has no evidence of any such activity on Wynn’s part.
Should someone succeed in landing the reward, Kimble said the money would come out of his own pocket — he has not raised the minimum $5,000 in campaign funds that would require him to file a report with the Federal Election Commission.
This is not the first time Kimble has resorted to desperate campaign measures. In 1998 — his second failed race against Wynn — Kimble offered to pose nude in Playgirl magazine if radio personality Howard Stern helped raise $1 million for his campaign.
Stern did not respond and Playgirl’s readers were spared the sight of a naked Kimble, a reported 40 years old, overweight and with thinning hair.
For now, he is enjoying the attention that he’s receiving for his latest campaign stunts.
“Hey, people are fed up with Social Security and such issues that dominate the elections,” he said. “My campaign is really adding some life into this otherwise boring elections. People are more interested in what I say than to have someone blabber about Social Security.”
His approach has won little support from the Republican Party, which has distanced itself from Kimble’s race-baiting tactics. It would prefer to see Kimble address more serious issues and attack his opponent as a “failed legislator.”
“First of all, Comedy Central is not the right channel for us,” said Paul Ellington, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party. “Kimble may think so and is running the race according to his beliefs. But we are diverting our resources into other districts where we think we have a chance at winning.”
Comedy Central, however, is happy with the tack Kimble is taking.
“He’s running a negative campaign in a very positive way. It’s unique,” Cutler said with a chuckle.
But Cutler said viewers will not see a pro-Kimble story.
“We’re going to portray him in a positive way and let him bury himself,” he said.