Local candidates and political parties have been bringing out the big guns in the final days leading up to the Nov. 2 election.
The biggest of all (although it should be noted that he's lost a lot of weight in recent years) was former President Bill Clinton, who came to Asheville to stump for Congressman Heath Shuler. The Democratic incumbent has been waging a fierce battle with Republican challenger Jeff Miller to represent Western North Carolina's 11th District, with both sides accusing the other of relying on manipulative advertisements that distort their respective records.
In his 45-minute address to the crowd of thousands who filled Pack Square Park downtown, Clinton sought to cut through the commercial sound-bites that “turn politicians into cardboard cutouts.”
Evoking Shuler's past football career, the president said that “America’s playing a football game with the rest of the world” and that he was trying to show people the “game film” of why Shuler deserves another term. To make his case, Clinton cited Shuler’s support of pay-as-you-go budget policy, Wall Street reform, clean-energy legislation and college-loan reform, as well as his efforts to fight childhood obesity, among other achievements.
“His ideas are better than the other guy’s; it doesn’t have anything to do with party,” Clinton asserted. “If you want to get more jobs, then you don’t have a choice: You’ve got to vote for Heath Shuler.”
Not surprisingly, the Miller campaign disagreed with Clinton's assessment.
A few days earlier, Miller hosted a Hendersonville rally with U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor, who told the modest crowd that Miller — a small-business owner — was the only proven jobs creator running for the 11th District. The race to represent WNC is about cutting the debt and getting jobs, he insisted.
And in response to Clinton’s visit, a Miller spokesperson sent out this statement: "I’m sure that President Clinton and the Congressman will have a nice time talking about the good ol' days when he was in the White House and Heath was trying to make it with the Washington Redskins. … But, that was 16 years ago … North Carolina’s families are having a tough time making ends meet and we don’t need to relive the days before Heath sold out to liberals in Washington; we need solutions for the future."
Buncombe County Republican chair Chad Nesbitt also had harsh words.
“Bill Clinton is against everything our much-talked-about mountain values are about,” he said in a statement. “WNC’s liberal socialist progressives must be concerned if they are bringing in this model of dishonesty and seduction to uplift their candidates."
In a separate press release, Nesbitt also announced that he was questioned by the Secret Service ahead of Clinton's visit. The interview was reportedly prompted by concerns over statements made via a satirical Twitter handle bearing his name. Messages sent out in the days leading up to the rally included:
Brainstorming ways 2 disrupt #Shuler event on Saturday. Doing so will make crowd vote #Republican & get me a lot of attention.
Oops – my informant tells me the #Clinton visit to #Asheville is on Thursday! :-O My bad! I’m going to have to think fast! :-O
What are good ways for #Avl #Republicans to make themselves known during Thursday’s #Clinton visit? #avlteaparty #bcgop
In the statement, Nesbitt denied any involvement with the Twitter account and said he’s reported it to local authorities.
“I do not have and have never had a Twitter account,” he asserted. “I reported this false account several weeks ago to the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department. They consulted with Buncombe County District Attorney Ron Moore, who I understand refused to take action. Per that lack of accountability, this situation reached a point of seriousness requiring Secret Service action. I hope the Buncombe County Sheriff Department and Mr. Moore will now realize the seriousness of this matter and act on my complaint. I will, again, make a formal request for action.”
Nesbitt also explained that, although he considers Clinton a “scoundrel,” he wished him no physical harm.
In response to the GOP press release and a WLOS story on the issue, the satirical Chad Nesbitt, @chadnesbitt sent out several tweets, including:
Note to media: 1) This account didn’t trigger anything. The Secret Service interviewed Chad as part of it’s normal routine.@WLOS_ABC13
Note to media: 5) If SS really thought I was a threat, I would have gotten a visit by now. (I didn’t.) @WLOS_ABC13
Asked about the interview with Nesbitt, Secret Service agent Glen Kessler declined to comment.
"Anything dealing with protection, the Secret Service doesn't comment on," he told Xpress. "So if we did talk to him, I couldn't confirm it."
Buncombe County Sheriff Van Duncan did, however, confirm that his office is investigating the issue.
"It's under investigation at this time and we're doing the subpoenas to get the information to find out who's actually logging the Twitter account and there may be a criminal charge there," he said. "That depends on what our legal advice says. … If it gets into the area of harassment, then it could fall into the cyber-stalking law. So that's what we're trying to figure out."