Etheridge slip puts foe on map

Presto! GOP's Ellmers gets wide exposure; donations pour in

Staff writerJune 16, 2010 

— At the beginning of the week, Renee Ellmers was barely known in the 2nd Congressional District, where she captured the Republican nomination last month.

By Tuesday, the 46-year-old nurse from Dunn was a rising star on conservative blogs, and donations were pouring in from around the country.

Ellmers was benefiting from an incident involving her opponent, seven-term Democratic congressman Bob Etheridge, who roughly grabbed a young man last week on a Washington sidewalk; the man began questioning Etheridge after sticking a video camera in his face.

The incident went viral Monday on the Internet and on cable television as video of the encounter was replayed.

Etheridge apologized for his behavior.

The episode breathed new life into the candidacy of Ellmers, who is running in a district that has traditionally leaned Democratic.

On Tuesday, her campaign released a political Web ad that featured both Etheridge manhandling the videographer and Ellmers talking into the camera.

"If a teacher at my son's school treated one of his students this way it would raise serious questions and he would be suspended," Ellmers says in the ad.

"For congressman Etheridge to describe his behavior as a poor response is not enough," she said. "Bob Etheridge needs to explain why he did what he did. And he needs to apologize in person to these two students."

Anonymous 'students'

The two people who approached Etheridge identified themselves as students working on a project but refused to give their names or say what schools they attended. The face of the one person who appears on camera was deliberately obscured on the video before it was made public.

The Etheridge video proved an immediate financial windfall for the Ellmers campaign. She received about 300 contributions totaling nearly $25,000 in little more than 24 hours, according to Al Lytton, Ellmers' campaign manager.

In her last report to the Federal Election Commission, Ellmers reported having $5,462 in her campaign kitty and $30,974 in debt. Etheridge reported having $1.1 million in his campaign treasury.

"All of a sudden major donors are going to look at this as a toss-up race," said Carter Wrenn, a consultant for Ellmers. "It has changed the politics in the district. It is now one of the most competitive races in the country."

Conservatives take note

Ellmers also has been interviewed on conservative blogs such as RedState, HotAir.com and The Stage Right Show. The National Republican Congressional Committee has expressed renewed interest in the race.

Etheridge's office did not respond to inquiries Tuesday.

The instant analysis from nonaligned political blogs Tuesday was that Etheridge, though damaged, was not necessarily mortally wounded, because he is an entrenched incumbent in a Democratic-leaning district with a big money advantage.

"The district's fundamentals and Etheridge's fundraising advantage still give him a significant advantage in the fall," wrote Sean Trende on the website Real Clear Politics. "But now there is a pretty clear scenario to see how he loses."

rob.christensen@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4532

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