WASHINGTON (Talon News) — In 1996, Jim Jordan, campaign manager for Democrat presidential contender Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), was press secretary for Tim Johnson during his challenge to then-incumbent Sen. Larry Pressler (R-SD). The long, negative campaign resulted in the end of the South Dakota Republican’s 22 years in Congress.
During the campaign, Pressler was dogged by questions about his health, since his father suffered with Alzheimer’s disease. But the most damaging attack was delivered by James Abourezk, the man Pressler replaced in the Senate in 1978.
Abourezk brought Alexander Cockburn, author of “Washington Babylon” to speak to a Sioux Falls group. In his book, Cockburn alleged that Pressler was a homosexual. Abourezk admitted repeating the story saying, “I told everybody who would listen to me.”
Jordan allegedly sought to take advantage of the accusations, according to a Lisa Lutterman, a Pressler worker. Lutterman told The Mitchell Daily Republic that Jim Jordan was “just ugly, mean spirited and boasting that he would help destroy Larry Pressler.” She said Jordan declared that he was “going to take Larry Pressler’s liver and rip it out.”
Although Jordan said that no such conversation “ever took place,” South Dakota newspapers followed the story as charges and countercharges kept the scandal alive.
Abourezk was quoted giving a magazine some credit for ousting Pressler because of their focus on his “confused private life.” He said, “There’s no doubt in my mind that ‘Counter Punch’ gave Pressler his losing margin.”
Pressler has always denied that he was gay and in 1998, Cockburn retracted the allegation and withdrew his book from publication in a settlement with the former senator.
At the time, the “gay smear” generated little attention outside South Dakota. But in 2003, gay issues are hotly debated. Earlier this year, Jordan’s wife, Associated Press journalist Lara Jakes Jordan conducted an interview with Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) that touched off a firestorm. Santorum maintained that his comments about the Texas sodomy case were taken out of context by Jordan.
“I am very disappointed that the article was written in the way it was and it has been construed the way it has,” Santorum said.
Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) was the first of the Democrat presidential contenders to comment. He said, “The White House speaks the rhetoric of compassionate conservatism, but they’re silent while their chief lieutenants make divisive and hurtful comments that have no place in our politics. … These comments take us backwards in America.”
The Kerry campaign did not respond to calls from Talon News to comment on Jim Jordan’s role in the Pressler matter.