Ohio “Patriot Pastor” Leader Endorses Whisper Campaign Against Democrat

Last week an Ohio GOP “social conservative coordinator” and erstwhile director of the Ohio Restoration Project launched an Internet-based rumor campaign against Ted Strickland, the Democratic candidate for governor. The operative, Gary Lankford, suggested that Strickland and his wife are gay and that he is sympathetic to child molesters. The GOP fired Lankford, who also runs a Christian homeschool program, and the spokesman for Republican candidate Kenneth Blackwell’s campaign, which had employed Lankford during the primary, denied involvement.

In an editorial, Columbus Dispatch political reporter Joe Hallett excoriates the Ohio GOP for its “Houdini act” in denying the effort, which he describes in detail:

On July 17, Lankford launched an e-mail titled “10 Things to Know About Ted Strickland.” The e-mail noted that Strickland married his wife, Frances, at 46, they have no children and they live apart, which, in truth, is the case when Strickland is tending to his congressional duties in Washington. Lankford linked readers to an Internet blog written by Scott Pullins, who questioned the sexual orientation of both Stricklands.

Pullins is best known as the former anti-tax crusading head of the Ohio Taxpayers Association. He lost his credibility around the Statehouse when he gave the green light to corporate-tax increases in a budget-balancing bill and later attacked GOP lawmakers for tax increases.

In addition, Hallett reports that Russell Johnson, the megachurch pastor who created the Ohio Restoration Project as a way to organize so-called “Patriot Pastors” around selected causes and candidates like Blackwell, is standing by his former lieutenant.

In an interview Thursday, Johnson perpetuated the rumor by suggesting that the Stricklands file a lawsuit and go to court to prove they are heterosexuals. If Lankford’s claim is untrue, Johnson said, “It’s slanderous and they’ve got a case. I’m withholding judgment until the facts are in.”

Unlike the Ohio GOP, which eventually fired Lankford and issued Strickland an apology, Johnson wants Strickland to prove he is not gay.