Nationally, Democrats say they intend to campaign against the tea party movement. But locally, Democratic officials and activists in at least four states now stand accused of collaborating with tea party candidates in an attempt to sabotage Republican challengers in some of the closest House races in the nation.
The charges of dirty tricks are being leveled in Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Jersey and Florida — and they involve more than a half-dozen contests that could tip the balance of power in the House.
The accusations range from helping tea party activists circulate candidate petition sheets to underwriting the creation of official tea parties, which then put forth slates of candidates that local conservatives accuse of being rife with Democratic plants.
In all of the affected races, the outcome is expected to be close enough that a third-party candidate who wins just a few percentage points could end up swinging the outcome to the Democratic congressman or candidate.
“The Democrats have come to the realization that they can’t win on issues, and with their flawed candidates, so they are forced to skirt the rules by running candidates who they hope can split the vote with Republicans,” said Paul Lindsey, a National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman.
Democratic officials deny there is any grand conspiracy.
"The DCCC has nothing to do with this," said Ryan Rudominer, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
But the evidence of campaign tampering in at least two states is hard to dismiss. In Michigan, the party chairman in suburban Detroit’s Oakland County now concedes that one of his top aides played a role in helping nine tea party candidates get onto the ballot for various offices across the state — including the open 1st Congressional District and the 7th Congressional District, held by vulnerable freshman Democratic Rep. Mark Schauer.
“We have to assess internally what we do next,” Democratic Chairman Mike McGuinness told the Detroit News. “We need to make sure staff is operating within the bounds of our purview, which is helping the Democratic Party.” McGuinness did not return requests for comment from POLITICO.
Recruitment of so-called straw candidates or spoilers is a time-honored, if less than reputable, tradition in American politics. But in this case, some Democrats appear to be in cahoots with ideological adversaries whose ideas they hope to use as weapons against Republicans in the fall.
Now, seven House seats are the subject of controversies that are spawning threats of lawsuits and criminal complaints and even pitting conservative tea party activists against one another. (Continues here)