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By James B. Nelson September 17, 2012

Thompson says aide wasn’t representing campaign in email criticizing sexual orientation of Baldwin

Hours before U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin of Madison gave the most important speech of her political career, to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., a disparaging email made the rounds.

Baldwin is facing former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson in a bid for a key open U.S. Senate seat, the one now held by Democrat Herb Kohl.

The email criticized Baldwin, who had said that her Sept. 6, 2012, convention speech would focus on "heartland values."

Here’s the email message:

"Yesterday, Madison-Liberal Tammy Baldwin cited "heartland values" as the topic for her prime time speech to the DNC tomorrow night.  
Clearly, there's no one better positioned to talk "heartland values" than Tammy"

The email included a link to a YouTube videoand then added these words: "A primer of her values---note event, and enjoy."

The video is of Baldwin, who would be the first openly gay member of the U.S. Senate, dancing on stage with a costumed band at a 2010 gay pride event in Madison.

The email -- and several similar tweets  -- were sent to more than a dozen conservative political contacts, including bloggers and those in the media, by Brian Nemoir, senior adviser/communications for the Thompson campaign.

One of the recipients forwarded the email to, which wrote the first story on the matter and called the messages"a negative hit from Tommy Thompson’s campaign."The tweets were sent from Nemoir’s personal account, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.That account has since added privacy settings.

The emails drew a far broader audience, and quickly drew attention -- and criticism -- since it was the first time Baldwin’s sexual orientation had been made an issue in the contentious campaign.

In an email to reporters, another Thompson aide, Darrin Schmitz, wrote that Nemoir "acted on his own" and "he was not representing the Thompson campaign in this matter."

Is that accurate?

Let’s pause for a quick note: When we examine claims from campaign spokespersons, we typically attribute the statement to the candidate. After all, that is what spokespersons are hired to do -- speak for the candidate. We will do that here when evaluating the statement issued by Schmitz, who like Nemoir, has frequently spoken to the media on behalf of the campaign.

Five days after the emails were sent, Thompson told reporters after an appearance in Milwaukee:"I thought it was a mistake, I'm sorry, and he's apologized, I believe. He shouldn't have done it."

Thompson also said a person's sexual orientation is "absolutely not an issue" in the race.

After the email was made public, Nemoir’s role with the campaign changed, and he was replaced as the campaign’s spokesman, according to Thompson.

But what about that not-part-of-the-campaign claim about the email?

When asked to back up that position, Schmitz said Nemoir’s email was an "unauthorized statement."

"As you well know, this is not the first time an employee of any business, organization, campaign or media outlet has shared personal thoughts through a work email," Schmitz said in an email.

Maybe so, but some things just don’t add up.

In the past, most of Nemoir’s correspondence with reporters had been through his email address with his consulting firm, Full Impact Communications. This email was sent from his  email account with the Thompson campaign.

The email contained Nemoir’s name and listed his then-position with the campaign: senior adviser/communications. It also contained the web address for the Thompson campaign.

It certainly appeared official.

What’s more, it arrived a key political moment in the campaign.

It was sent out hours in advance of Baldwin’s convention speech, and was tied directly to the theme of that speech "heartland values." Although the email text didn’t note her sexual orientation in depth, the link made the message was clear: Baldwin does not represent "heartland values" because she is gay.

"This sounds like a good/bad cop routine. An aide makes an attack through the campaign but the organization disavows the attack," said Darrell West, vice president and director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution. "This can be a very effective strategy if the media pick up the attack."

West added that "making an issue of someone's sexuality is not a casual decision. Campaigns think very carefully about the up and downside of that." He likened the message to "lobbing a nuclear bomb into a meadow."

Our rating

A Thompson consultant said the campaign was not responsible for an email that criticized Baldwin as not representing "heartland values."

But the email came from the campaign’s chief spokesman on a campaign account at a key political moment in the campaign. It was sent to conservative bloggers and others. It was clearly meant to draw attention to the video of Baldwin’s appearance at the gay pride event.

The average reader of the email got the message loud and clear: Thompson’s campaign was criticizing Baldwin.

Schmitz’s statement is false, and it’s ridiculous. We rate it Pants on Fire.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

Wisconsin State Journal, "Thompson aide posted Balwin video, says he wasn’t representing campaign,"Sept. 6, 2012

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel,"Thompson says aide’s messages about Baldwin were a mistake,"Sept. 11, 2012

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Thompson campaign official emails video of Baldwin at gay pride event,"Sept. 6, 2012

Emails, Darrin Schmitz, Thompson campaign, Sept. 10, 2012

Emails, Darrell West, vice president and director of goverance studies, Brookings Institution, Sept. 13, 2012

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Thompson says aide wasn’t representing campaign in email criticizing sexual orientation of Baldwin

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