Smucker and Beiler

State Sen. Lloyd Smucker, left, and Manheim businessman Chet Beiler, right, are vying for a congressional seat that hasn't opened in 20 years.

Republican Congressional hopeful Lloyd Smucker has launched his sharpest attack yet on primary opponent Chet Beiler, hitting the former GOP chairman for a 15-year-old violation of Pennsylvania’s election law.

In a television ad that began airing this week, Smucker’s campaign brings up the Manheim businessman’s role in the so-called “Votergate” scandal, which has dogged Beiler’s political career in recent years, saying it’s part of a pattern of shady practices.

Beiler “wants to serve the community,” intones the voiceover in the 30-second ad. “Truth is, Beiler’s already performed community service. Fifty days’ worth for election fraud.”

In 2001, the state charged Beiler with a misdemeanor count of “solicitation of registration.”

The charge stemmed from the GOP's “Operation 3,000” voter registration plan, in which the party, under Beiler, paid workers $4 for every new voter they registered before the 2000 presidential election. Paying them that way is barred by a 1995 law.

At the time, Beiler headed the county Republican Party. The charge was later dismissed after he performed community service under a program for first-time offenders.

In a 2008 Philadellphia Inquirer article, Beiler said his team didn’t know the law and got “bad information” but that he took full responsibility.

The ad goes on to say Beiler has been accused of “fear tactics” and “irresponsible” and “divisive” actions.

That stems from a 2004 New York Sun article on an Amish voter registration drive co-organized by Beiler. Critics said the initiative aimed to scare the Amish into greater political involvement.

Critics used those terms to describe a 2004 voter registration drive that Beiler helped organize among Lancaster’s Amish, telling the New York Sun the initiative was trying to scare the Amish into greater political involvement.

“That’s not community service, that’s self service,” the ad concludes.

In a statement, Smucker campaign manager Michael Barley said: “The voters of the 16th Congressional District deserve to hear the real truth about Chet Beiler.  ...

“Chet has a history of unethical behavior highlighted by his involvement in ‘Votergate’ and his use of other unsavory campaign tactics.”

Responded Beiler: “Since Lloyd Smucker’s campaign is losing in the polls and sinking fast because voters are tired of career politicians, he has no choice but to go 100 percent negative with false personal attacks.”

The ad is the latest salvo in a series of negative exchanges between the two Republican campaigns. The primary is April 26.

Federal records indicate the Smucker campaign has bought 22 spots for $17,500 on WGAL Channel 8 this month and 52 spots for $10,385 on WHP Channel 21.

The two campaigns have issued numerous mailers with tag lines such as “Lloyd Smucker can’t hide from his liberal record” and “What is Party Boss Chet Beiler hiding?’

The fact that Smucker has put Votergate into play “shows you the intensity level of this campaign,” Franklin & Marshall College professor and veteran political analyst Terry Madonna said.

“It fits quite well, given the nature of the campaigns this year, which have become very brutal and personal,” he said.

The Smucker campaign cites three news articles for the material in the ad: the Inquirer and Sun articles and a 2003 LNP piece. The reporter who wrote the last, Justin Quinn, is now the Beiler campaign communications director.

The effectiveness of Smucker’s and Beiler’s tactics remains to be seen, Madonna said: Sometimes attack ads work, sometimes they backfire.

American political campaigns have always been “rough and tumble,” Madonna said: “They’ve always had a brutal component.”

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