“Patriot Pastor” Manager and GOP Operative Looks to Whisper Campaign

As of last week, Gary Lankford was listed as state director of the Ohio Restoration Project, an obstensibly nonpartisan organization based out of Russell Johnson’s Fairfield Christian Church. The ORP has played a critical role in Republican Kenneth Blackwell’s campaign for governor, honoring the candidate at meetings of “Patriot Pastors” across the state. “This is to elect values candidates,” said Johnson of his group.

But as the Columbus Dispatch reports, that’s not the only role Lankford has been playing in Ohio politics. Acting as the Ohio GOP’s “social conservative coordinator,” Lankford recently distributed an e-mail to spread rumors about Blackwell’s Democratic opponent, Ted Strickland, and his wife.

The e-mail, obtained by The Dispatch, was sent to an undisclosed group of GOP supporters — with instructions to forward it to others — by Gary Lankford, whom the party hired in July as its “social conservative coordinator.” He was paid $16,000 as a “voter contact consultant” for the primary-election campaign of GOP gubernatorial candidate J. Kenneth Blackwell before taking the party job.

Among other things, the e-mail says Strickland married his wife, Frances, at 46, has no children and lives apart from her. It also links readers to an Internet blog that directly questions the sexual orientation of both Stricklands and notes accusations he is “soft on those who sexually assault children.”

Blackwell and ORP chairman Johnson often insinuate that their political opponents are something akin to enemies of Christianity in America, and recently, Blackwell said that Democrats like Strickland “believe government is God.” Standing by the remark, his spokesman added that Strickland’s allies believe “God and faith have no place in the public square.” Early polls suggest that charges of anti-Christian sentiments may not stick against Strickland, himself a United Methodist minister. Perhaps the rumor campaign started by Lankford–an operative of both the Republican Party and the church-based Ohio Restoration Project–portends a blunter approach in the next three months.

UPDATE: The Ohio Republican Party has fired Lankford, the AP reports.