The race has heated up with a barrage of advertisements produced by the campaigns of candidates Bruce Thompson and Matt Laughridge — who are squaring off in the Dec. 3 runoff for the seat — and both candidates say they don’t like the other’s tactics.
A half-page ad paid for by Thompson’s campaign consulting firm in Wednesday’s Cherokee Tribune slams Laughridge for allegedly trying to buy the seat and for his February DUI arrest, which is pending in Bartow County court.
In the ad, Laughridge’s mug shot and the Georgia State Patrol incident report from his arrest Feb. 21 are shown, along with documents from the state ethics commission to show he personally loaned his campaign $100,000.
“Cherokee County will not be bought!!!,” the ad states. “Why would someone spend this type of money for a Senate seat that pays $17,000 a year?”
Thompson said Wednesday he didn’t know anything about the ad before it ran, because his consulting firm, Grand Public Affairs Consulting, never told him. But he doesn’t have a problem with the content.
“They don’t consult with me about everything that’s done,” said the 48-year-old Bartow County candidate, who has previously taken issue with Laughridge’s ads. “They’re hired to do a job and they are following the guidelines that I gave them. I’ve hired them, I support their decisions.”
For Laughridge, though, accusing him of trying to buy the election and plastering information from his arrest across newspaper pages is nothing short of “mud-slinging.”
“That’s not how I believe a campaign should be run,” said Laughridge, 25, of Cartersville. “I believe you need to run an honest campaign, transparent campaign, ethical campaign.”
Laughridge said that’s not the kind of campaign Thompson has been running.
“He has spent this whole time staying away from the issues of the campaign, and he is continuously trying to personally attack facets about my life,” Laughridge said of his opponent. “I’ve done the opposite, I’ve stuck directly to the issues.”
But Laughridge’s camp has also come on strong for the final push of the campaign.
A circle of ads
In a video ad released online Saturday, the Laughridge campaign alleges Thompson “used his own family in a paid advertisement for political gain to publically slander his opponent.”
The Thompson ad in question ran in the Cherokee Tribune on Nov. 17 and was a letter penned by Thompson’s wife, Becky Thompson, alleging her husband had been “berated, smeared and flat out lied about” by Laughridge’s campaign.
“As a wife and mother, I find these types of tactics to be disgusting,” Becky Thompson wrote in the ad. “I write you today in defense of my husband as one of the most ethical, moral, God-fearing and righteous Christians I know.”
Within the letter — which noted Laughridge’s age of 25 and called his tactics immature — Thompson’s wife gave no indication of exactly what lies had been spread about her husband.
When asked about the lies, Bruce Thompson later referenced statements made in yet another Laughridge ad alleging Thompson had been fined by the state ethics commission and his voting record didn’t match up with his stance as a Republican.
In the Laughridge video ad from early November before the Nov. 5 special election, the announcer states Thompson was “fined for failing to file disclosures,” and he and Cherokee candidate Dwight Pullen, who didn’t make it into the runoff, “claim to be Republicans, but their voting records don’t support the claim.”
Laughridge’s Saturday video ad also mentions Thompson’s financial disclosures.
“Bruce Thompson claims to be honest and transparent, yet was fined for failure to file personal financial disclosures,” the ad states.
Thompson was fined by the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission for filing his personal financial disclosures late, said Holly LaBerge, spokeswoman for the commission. He has since paid the fine, LaBerge added. According to Thompson, his failure to file on time was a basically a clerical error and he attempted to turn in the reports before the deadline.
Thompson also takes offense to the claim his voting record doesn’t support his position as a Republican.
“To characterize me as not a Republican, are you kidding me?” he said Wednesday. “I’ve never voted as a Democrat, I’ve never voted as an Independent, I have always voted as a Republican.”
Bartow County elections records show Thompson has voted 11 times since 2002. Six of those votes have been as Republican, and the others show no party affiliation, as they were general or county elections, records show.
Laughridge said when the ad calling Thompson’s voting history into question was made, the campaign was confident in its statements.
Melanie Collier, spokeswoman for the Laughridge campaign, said Wednesday the source of the information was GOP Data Center, which she said is a reputable source.
But Thompson said the claim is simply not true, and he would rather the ads keep a firm footing in the reality and not leave out “truths.”
For Laughridge, though, Wednesday’s ad against him in the Cherokee Tribune, leaves out plenty of the truth.
The final push
Laughridge was arrested by the Georgia State Patrol on Feb. 21 and charged with DUI and two traffic violations after he crashed his car on Red Top Mountain Road near Cartersville.
But the candidate has said he wasn’t drunk and he only crashed because he was swerving to miss a deer.
In an incident report provided to the Cherokee Tribune by GSP, the responding officer wrote Laughridge declined to take a Breathalyzer test or field sobriety test and he told the officer he had a few drinks earlier.
Laughridge said he declined to take the tests because he had been advised to decline any tests if he ever found himself in such a situation.
The case is still pending in the Bartow County court system, but Laughridge said he expects the DUI charge to be dropped.
The GSP trooper who arrested Laughridge agreed during a hearing May 9 to cancel the suspension on his license, if he would plead to reckless driving, court records show. Because of this, the candidate said he believes he won’t be convicted of the drunk driving charge.
The hearing May 9 was by the Georgia Office of Administrative Hearings and was intended to decide the fate of Laughridge’s driver’s license, but not his charges.
OSAH’s decision notes that “… this agreement does not bind the criminal court.”
No court date has been set for Laughridge’s DUI charge, Bartow County officials said.
Even though Laughridge hasn’t been convicted, Thompson said his campaign consultants placed the ad in the Tribune in an effort to educate the voters of District 14 “so that when they go Dec. 3 to the polls, they can make a decision whether it’s Matt or whether it’s me.”
When asked if the ad was meant to smear Laughridge, Thompson said he didn’t believe it was, because the information within it was “factual” and “public information.”
“Frankly, ‘smear’ would have been what they tried to do on TV with me,” he said.