WASHINGTON — The increasingly bitter and bizarre Republican primary for a U.S. Senate seat in California took another odd turn Thursday after a top adviser to Carly Fiorina was accused of calling rival Tom Campbell an anti-Semite.
The alleged remark by Fiorina's campaign manager, longtime Sacramento political operative Marty Wilson, was said to have been made during a telephone call several weeks ago with Bruce McPherson, a former California secretary of state and Republican lawmaker from Santa Cruz. McPherson called Wilson to inform him that he had decided to support Campbell rather than Fiorina, McPherson's preferred candidate before Campbell jumped into the race last month.
"Why would you do that?" Wilson responded, according to McPherson. "He's an anti-Semite."
In a conference call with reporters Thursday, Wilson adamantly denied the remark, which was first reported by the Los Angeles Times.
"I'm accusing Bruce McPherson of having the wrong recollection of a conversation, and I'm accusing the Campbell campaign of being in absolute desperation to go trot some guy like that out there to make these kinds of, you know, crazy allegations," Wilson said. "No. 1, I don't believe it, and No. 2, I never said it."
"There's no reason for me to make it up," McPherson responded in an interview with the Mercury News.
The controversy blew open a heated dispute among several conservative Web sites — and stoked by Fiorina
Campbell responds that he voted to cut economic, but never military, aid to Israel, and then only by a small amount. He said he was unaware of the charges against Al-Arian at the time he wrote a letter criticizing his firing from the University of South Florida, in what Campbell said he regarded as a case of academic freedom. Campbell, a former law professor at Stanford with a strong civil libertarian streak, still supports making Jerusalem a shared Israeli-Palestinian capital.
"The charges against Tom Campbell have sunk to unforeseen depths, going from bizarre to, now, grotesque," his spokesman, Jamie Fisfis, said in a statement. The campaign also released a statement from former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz defending Campbell's record on Israel.
But Wilson said the Fiorina campaign has no intention of dropping the issue, convinced that many questions remain about Campbell's allegiances. The campaign manager said a simple Google search by Campbell at the time he wrote the letter defending Al-Arian would have turned up troubling evidence about his past. Wilson also accused Campbell of taking campaign donations from others with ties to terrorist groups during his 2000 run for Senate.
"Tom Campbell has a record that is decidedly anti-Israel and has some very questionable associations," Wilson said.
Fisfis said Campbell has never knowingly accepted campaign money from anyone with ties to terrorism and called the effort to portray Campbell as anti-Israel "garbage."
"Her campaign has devolved into the gutter," Fisfis said of Fiorina.
DeVore hasn't stayed out of it, accusing Campbell in a news release Thursday of a "past association with — and advocacy for — radical Middle Eastern causes."
The episode ramped up what is becoming a contentious campaign for the right to challenge Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., in the fall. Much of the controversy has centered on Fiorina, who made national news earlier this month with her "demon sheep" video blasting Campbell as soft on taxes.
Contact Mike Zapler at 202-662-8921.