An email to former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole from independent candidate Greg Orman, denying he'd referred to Dole as a "clown," has only stoked the controversy revving up tensions in Kansas on the eve of one of the country's most closely watched Senate races.
"I want to assure you that this is not true and is not my opinion of you in any way, shape or form," Orman wrote in the 265-word message sent to Dole on Friday night, which Dole then gave to The Washington Post.
"My reference to a 'clown car' was commenting on the near-endless number of political supporters of Senator [Pat] Roberts who have piled out of Washington to support him, none of whom I think are clowns. I certainly wasn't calling you — or any of the others supporting Senator Roberts — a 'clown.'"
Dole saw the email as an "apology," The Post reports, but the Orman camp called it an attempt to set the record straight.
Orman spokesman Mike Phillips doubled down Monday, telling The Post, "I think the letter speaks for itself."
The dispute stems from a speech earlier Friday when Orman took a shot at the Republican luminaries coming to Kansas to help boost the Republican Roberts' campaign. The surrogates have included Dole, 91, the GOP's 1996 presidential nominee, 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan.
"It sort of seems like a Washington establishment clown car to me. Every day a new person comes out of that car," Orman said.
Dole didn't waste any time hitting back, saying "I don't think I've ever been called a 'clown' before," Fox News
reports. "I'm disappointed by Mr. Orman's statement."
Roberts also lashed out at the comment.
"The whole incident has just been an indication of how out of touch my opponent is," Roberts said on Fox News' "America's Newsroom."
"He has insulted Bob Dole, who's an American icon and certainly a Kansas icon."
In his email, Orman effusively praised Dole, and said his comment was taken out of context.
"I have the utmost respect for you, and often speak favorably of your distinguished service to the great state of Kansas and of your ability to forge reasoned, principled and common-ground solutions with senators from across the political spectrum (it is the skill so desperately missing in Washington today)," he wrote.
"The remark the Roberts' campaign is quoting has been deliberately taken out of context."
Orman then went on a tear about Roberts' "negative" campaigning.
"[I] refuse to stoop to character assassinations, have eschewed negative campaigning and will not use rhetoric of that sort," he wrote. "Frankly, that kind of behavior is beneath the office I seek. Sadly, it has not been above Senator Roberts' campaign to do the same, as their false and misleading attacks on me further erode the voters' faith in our political system."
Orman has been mostly ahead in polling in the solidly red state, but the latest CBS-TV/New York Times/YouGov poll
has Roberts elbowing past him by a margin of 38 percent to 37 percent among likely voters.
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