The two self-described “students working on a project” who accosted Congressman Bob Etheridge on a Washington, D.C. street in a now-notorious "Who are you?" YouTube video were part of a Republican guerrilla operation to harass Democratic incumbents in hopes they would say or do something embarrassing, according to a New York Times story today.
“Only this week did Republican strategists acknowledge they were behind the episode,” wrote reporters Jim Rutenberg and Jeff Zeleny in a story detailing House Republican leaders’ elaborate planning after the 2008 elections that helped them regain the majority Tuesday.
Etheridge apologized, but the video instantly went viral, lifting challenger Renee Ellmers in the polls and generating donations for her campaign. It also provided fodder for TV attack ads funded by an independent conservative group, reports Jay Price.
The footage was first was released in June on the website “Big Government,” run by Andrew Breitbart, the man who first posted the heavily edited guerilla ACORN videos.
The video put her in touch with the National Republican Congressional Committee, which considered adding her to its “Young Guns” list of contenders. At the same time, both the NRCC and the National Republican Committee said they didn’t have anything to do with the video.
The NRCC subsequently left Ellmers off its contribution list after her consultant, Carter Wrenn, told reporters that the congressional committee knew the men, reported Washington correspondent Barbara Barrett.
“They told me yesterday they know who they are,” Wrenn said back in June. “It wasn't clear whether the students worked for them or not.”
The two young men hit the jackpot after they pointed video cameras at Etheridge and asked if he “fully supported the Obama agenda.” He grabbed one of them by the wrist, ignoring repeated requests to let go, then briefly grabbed the man by the neck and repeatedly asking the pair who they were.
CBS and Google listed the clip of the incident as the top political video of the year, noting that it got nearly 3 million hits. More to the point, Etheridge is behind by such a small margin – fewer than 1700 votes – that many now think his behavior in the video cost him the election.
Ellmers narrowly led Tuesday’s polling in the 2nd Congressional District race, but Etheridge expects to seek a recount after the results become official in a week.