Local Columnists

August 6, 2014

Dave Helling: Candidates, be ready for what’s coming — because it will

Milton Wolf almost certainly knew his Facebook posts would be an issue in his campaign. Yet he never really addressed the issue, and he may have lost because of it.

Last October, Milton Wolf announced his campaign for the U.S. Senate. The day of that announcement, a spokesman for opponent Pat Roberts issued a statement.

“Dr. Wolf will have many questions to answer,” Leroy Towns said, “including patient privacy issues.”

It seemed like boilerplate at the time. Today it’s a pretty clear indication Roberts knew about Wolf’s Facebook posts of patient X-rays and would make them an issue in the primary ahead.

Wolf must have known this. In fact, GOP operatives working with Roberts say Wolf knew years ago the posts could come up in a political campaign.

So why did he seem so unprepared when the story surfaced in February?

By almost any measure, the Leawood radiologist otherwise ran a great campaign — underfunded and unknown, he rang up 41 percent of the vote in a race against the longest-tenured GOP officeholder in the state.

Roberts got less than half the votes in his own party.

Yet any history of the Roberts-Wolf race will begin with the Facebook story. Without those posts, we might be pondering Sen. Wolf’s future right now.

The best explanation for the Facebook fumble might be Wolf’s own, uh, self-esteem. His campaign was built on an outsider’s confidence. Any admission of a problem, he may have concluded, would hurt his effort and his pride.

But one iron law of campaigns is to get ahead of bad news if you can. Since he knew the hit was coming, a pre-emptive news conference, coupled with repeated apologies, might have blunted the impact of the story before The Topeka Capital-Journal finally made it public.

Instead, Wolf bet the story would go away. Which obviously it didn’t.

Other candidates have had similar problems. Opponents used Bain Capital to attack Mitt Romney for years, yet he seemed bewildered when the criticism resurfaced two years ago.

We’ll see other examples of predictable attacks in the months ahead. Paul Davis will have to explain why he isn’t Barack Obama. Missouri governor candidate Chris Koster should be ready to answer questions about his party allegiance. Vicky Hartzler, whose time in Congress may be running short, will be asked about her family’s farm subsidies. Same with Emanuel Cleaver’s car wash debt.

Come to think of it, Roberts never really came up with a good explanation for his choice of residence. Trust me, Pat. It’s going to come up again. Get an answer ready.

To reach Dave Helling, call 816-234-4656 or send email to dhelling@kcstar.com.

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