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Will Bob Etheridge's confrontation damage his re-election campaign?

Posted June 15, 2010
Updated June 19, 2010

— U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge apologized Monday for a confrontation caught on camera in which he grabbed a man filming him on a Washington, D.C. sidewalk – but will it cost him at the polls?

The Democratic lawmaker, who represents North Carolina's 2nd District, was expected to cruise to victory this year. But some say the video of the seven-term congressman’s confrontation makes the race more competitive.

Renee Ellmers, a Republican who is running against Etheridge, was quick to respond to the criticism surrounding Etheridge.

"Coming out and saying that this was just a poor response is really just hitting it just barely," she said Monday.

Ellmers’ campaign crafted an Internet ad within 24 hours of the release of the viral video, which was posted Monday on websites owned by Andrew Breitbart, a conservative Web entrepreneur.

The video shows Etheridge walking down a street toward two young men with cameras. One man says, "Hi, Congressman. How are you? Do you fully support the Obama agenda?"

Etheridge then asks, "Who are you?" multiple times as he pushes the camera away and grabs the young man's wrist.

"Tell me who you are," Etheridge continues as the other man with a camera replies, "We're just here for a project, sir."

The young men tell the congressman they are students but don't identity themselves further. One of the men then asks Etheridge, "Would you please let go of my hand?"

Etheridge eventually lets go of his wrist and grabs the man around the neck and then the shoulder as the other cameraman yells, "Sir! Sir! Sir! Please!" Etheridge eventually walks away.

Ellmers’ consultant Carter Wrenn said Tuesday that Ellmers is getting an influx of money and name recognition from the Etheridge video.

“It turns this race into one of the most competitive races in the country,” he said.

Wrenn said the Etheridge video changed the race overnight.

“The world moves quickly on the Internet today,” he said. “A moment like this comes and fractures all those political myths.”

Democratic consultant Gary Pearce said he thinks Etheridge can recover from the incident.

“The worst wounds in politics are the self-inflicted wounds,” he said. “I think people will see that was a moment of impatience and anger that was not characteristic.”

Etheridge issued an apologized Monday for the confrontation.

"I deeply and profoundly regret my reaction, and I apologize to all involved," Etheridge, who represents Chatham, Cumberland, Franklin, Harnett, Johnston, Lee, Nash, Sampson, Vance and Wake counties, said in a statement. "Throughout my many years of service to the people of North Carolina, I have always tried to treat people from all viewpoints with respect."

Nevertheless, bad press can be costly. Etheridge benefited during a 1996 race when incumbent Republican David Funderburk mislead state troopers about a traffic accident. Virginia Sen. George Allen lost re-election in 2006 after using a perceived racial slur to identify a worker for his opponent.

How Etheridge’s incident will affect the upcoming race remains to be seen. In the meantime, Republicans are calling on Etheridge to offer more explanation about why he reacted so angrily. Democrats are pushing to find out more about the questioners and their motivation. So far, they remain anonymous.

“This is the way politics is going to be from now on,” Pearce said.


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  • skeeter II Jun 17, 2010

    Would you not like to see ALL of the Videos? And why "fuzzy" the faces of the "KIDS"? Don't you think that this was a political "SET-UP"? Were any other congressmen (congresswomen) approached by the two? If so, where are those videos?

    This is what would be called "dirty politics" down East.

  • torr10 Jun 17, 2010

    On the other side of the coin...if someone walked up to me in DC (read possible terrorist) and shoved a camera (possible tazer, gun, bomb) and REFUSED to identify himself....he'd get my fist down his throat....AND what self respecting college kid would allow himself to be physically dominated by a 70+ year old geezer? I'm not a democrat but..... See MoreEtheridge deserves some props for standing up for his safety. Guess what else...the terrorists in the airplane in 2001...they were on 'a project' to...those stupid kids are a plant. I bet you can find ties back to Renee or someone....

  • Milkman Jun 17, 2010

    Everyone who thinks Bob did not over react and his actions were acceptable, ask yourself if this was a police officer, who'd been asked how many donuts he'd had today and reacted this way, would you support the police officer's actions?

  • soyousay Jun 16, 2010

    Therefore he attacked.

    I have to say, even for you, this is quite a leap.

  • james27613 Jun 16, 2010

    'Hi boys, please call my office and we can talk later if time allows, thanks and have a nice day'

    Did he give them back the camera he snatched?

  • AX Jun 16, 2010

    At least he wasnt caught in a bathroom stall soliciting so lets move on.

  • 5Rs Jun 16, 2010

    The question he was asked was "Do you fully support the Obama agenda"? He obviously thought it was a threatening question; he could have answered a simple "yes" based on his voting record. So he knows that his support of the Obama takeover of our country is wrong, and that admitting he supported it would be bad for his reelection chances. Therefore he attacked.

  • josephlawrence43 Jun 16, 2010

    set up or not--at 6'5", Etheridge certainly had little to fear from two much smaller kids with a cell phone/camera. His actions are and were unexcusable and unacceptable.

  • jet2rdu Jun 16, 2010

    Bob was just unhappy and having a bad day. He saw a beverage truck across the street unloading cases of soda. It shook him up. The soda, it was 7UP !

  • 6079 SMITH W Jun 16, 2010

    That about nails it.....though I am shocked that got by the thought police. :)