Kelly Ayotte, the Republican senator from New Hampshire, is normally quite composed, but she’s leaning forward on her folding chair completely slack-jawed, eyes bugging out. “What?” Ayotte finally says, barely above a whisper. “That’s ridiculous. That’s the most ridiculous thing I ever heard. Are we going backward?”
Ayotte is sitting in the backroom of the Macomb County Republican headquarters, having flown in that morning to campaign with Terri Lynn Land, Michigan’s Republican Senate candidate, who has had difficulty closing what is now a 9-point deficit. Land shakes her head and confirms that the accusations that have left Ayotte speechless are true.
For months now, Land’s Democratic opponent, Rep. Gary Peters, has been attacking Land on the grounds that, contra every modern cultural norm, she’s not an equal financial partner in her own marriage. Land and her husband have a reported net worth north of $30 million, and they’ve put $3 million of their own money into the campaign. “I work, he works, and we both put money in a joint checking account,” Land tells Ayotte in her flat Midwestern accent.
However, the Peters campaign is charging that, because her husband earns most of the money, Land’s campaign is engaged in some sort of shenanigans, even though joint accounts aren’t restricted by campaign finance limits. The Democratic accusation is that while Land’s husband was bringing home the bacon, Land was busy doing such trifles as raising two kids and twice being elected Michigan’s secretary of state. Therefore, she’s not entitled to spend her husband’s millions.
In an era when refusing to subsidize a $10 package of birth control pills is deemed by liberals to be just shy of a war crime, the accusations directed at Land are a reminder of what a genuinely sexist campaign attack looks like. Nonetheless, the media have been happy to amplify Peters’s press releases with headlines such as “Gary Peters calls on Terri Lynn Land to disclose husband’s tax returns, details of $3M in funding” at MLive.com.
Indeed, it seems there’s nothing Land’s money won’t taint. In September, the Huffington Post ran this shocking exposé: “Terri Lynn Land Family Gives Millions To Evangelical Group Targeting ‘Unreached People.’ ” Land and her husband have donated a lot of money to support Christian missionaries in Africa, which HuffPo spins as “Land seeks to deflect attention from her wealth.”
Dig through the clip file, and you keep finding dire warnings about Land’s plutocratic excesses. “Michigan GOP Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land used her family’s company as the site for dozens of official meetings while she was the Michigan secretary of state, according to newly released records,” leads an October 15 Politico report. A few paragraphs later we get the requisite disclaimer: “Land does not appear to have violated any Michigan laws or ethics rules with these meetings.” A Michigan Democratic spokesman is nonetheless quoted asking “what she’s hiding about her shady relationship with Land & Co.”
The Politico piece finally caused Ken Braun, a conservative columnist for MLive.com, to snap. “The meeting schedule exposed by Politico means that roughly once per month top level staffers were required to leave behind their stuffy state office building and its Soviet-inspired architecture and visit instead a location where wealthy people work,” wrote Braun.
While dispatches of Land’s wealth abound, Peters—who, by the way, is a multimillionaire stockbroker—has evaded similar scrutiny. In December 2012, Peters hired Kandia Milton as a liaison in his congressional office, and Milton worked in Peters’s office for much of last year. Milton is the former chief of staff for imprisoned Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, and was fresh out of the big house for taking a $20,000 bribe in exchange for expediting the sale of city property.
Some might question Peters’s decision to place the public trust in a man convicted of public corruption. But the media spied a different angle: “Congressman Peters gives Kandia Milton a second chance” was the headline at Detroit’s Fox station. “I’m a Christian, and I believe in redemption,” Peters said of the unusual hire.
Of course, nearly all GOP candidates face a hostile media environment. More than a few Republicans have publicly and privately said that Land just isn’t a strong candidate. The bad-candidate narrative was cemented in May, when Land ran away from a scrum of reporters saying, “I can’t do this. I talk with my hands.”