Debate gets personal
By Noah Brenner
October 24, 2006
Sunday’s acrimonious debate between candidates for Wyoming’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives reportedly got quite personal away from the podiums as incumbent Barbara Cubin allegedly threatened to slap Libertarian challenger Thomas Rankin.
Rankin, who has used a wheelchair since 1999, said Cubin told him that if he had not been in a wheelchair she would have slapped him in the face in response to Rankin’s criticism of Cubin’s decision to accept donations from a political action committee connected with former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas. DeLay is under indictment for conspiracy and money laundering and has resigned from the House of Representatives.
The threat astounded Rankin.
“I was totally taken aback by it,” Rankin said Monday by phone. “I was not expecting it. After the last debate, she came up and said I did a good job and last night was a total reversal on her part.”
Cubin’s campaign confirmed that there was an altercation between the two.
“Mr. Rankin misrepresented Mrs. Cubin’s positions and insulted her integrity during the debate,” Cubin for Congress spokesman Eric Cullen said Monday in a phone interview. “When she approached him after the debate about it, he said something not very complementary – she responded. It was a private conversation, and she is over it.”
Cullen would not discuss what Rankin may have said or whether Cubin said she would have slapped Rankin if he were not in a wheelchair.
Rankin denied saying anything after the debate to provoke the six-term congresswoman.
“The only time I said anything to provoke her was when I accused her of taking Tom DeLay’s PAC money, and that was aired on TV during the debate,” he said. “Any other statements are false statements.”
Rankin said his aide, who was helping him pack up, witnessed the altercation.
Democratic candidate Gary Trauner, a Wilson resident, was sitting beside Rankin at the debate. Trauner’s campaign would not comment on the incident but said it had been informed about it.
Jeff O’Gara, of Wyoming Public Television, co-moderated the debate and said he saw Cubin approach Rankin but did not know what was said between the two. O’Gara said Wyoming Public Television cameras were not rolling at the time.
Rankin initially said the $22,520 that Cubin previously accepted from DeLay’s Americans for a Republican Majority PAC was linked to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and then later clarified his statement.
Cubin twice stopped during her response to a question about trying terror suspects by military tribunals to address Rankin, first denying money was connected to Abramoff, then denying it was connected to DeLay. However, DeLay founded Americans for a Republican Majority.
It is not the first time Cubin has come under fire for accepting DeLay-linked PAC money, which some Republican lawmakers returned after DeLay was indicted. In response, she has maintained that the allegations against DeLay are politically motivated, and she believes he will be found innocent.
Cullen said the altercation did not in any way reflect Cubin’s views toward people with disabilities.
“Just last week she had an art center for the developmentally disabled named in her honor,” Cullen said. “Anyone who knows her knows she would never lash out at someone unprovoked.”
Cullen characterized the allegations as a political stunt.
“[Cubin] believes voters are sick of this type of political maneuvering and has nothing more to say,” he said.
Rankin said he wanted Cubin to resign over the incident.
“The best response Barbara Cubin could give would be a resignation,” he said. “Nothing less than that would satisfy me.
“She is not the type of person Wyoming residents want representing them,” he said.