Frank Lautenberg vs. Bob Grant in Political Dog Fight
(This week Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, died. Lautenberg had an intense feud with talk radio legend Bob Grant who had a massive impact on the New York and New Jersey airwaves. Below is an excerpt from The Right Frequency.)
It was not until Bob Grant’s show had a clear impact on political contests that Democrats and Democratic operatives decided to smear him. In 1993, Christie Whitman was running an uphill race against New Jersey Governor Jim Florio. Grant had Whitman on his program numerous times to sell her tax cutting message, while he shouted about “Flim-Flam Florio” and criticized the governor’s massive tax hikes.
Whitman, a liberal Republican, campaigned as a tax cutter and appeared several times on Grant’s show, helping her solidify support among North Jersey conservatives. Whitman won by a slim margin and credited Grant with helping her get elected.
“He said, ‘how can I win with Bob Grant beating my brains out every day?’ Grant recalled of Florio. “Years later, there was a lunch arranged by mutual friends to have Jim and I set down to have lunch together. We both agreed. I found him to be a delightful person. We enjoyed it because we weren’t talking so much about the election. He was a pretty good sport come to think of it.”
Senator Frank Lautenberg, the New Jersey Democrat whom Grant regularly called “Senator Lousenberg” became uptight when he was up for reelection in 1994, a year that looked promising for Republican candidates across the country. His GOP opponent Assembly Speaker Garabed “Chuck” Haytaian was getting much attention from Grant’s radio show as well. So to take two opponents out with one shot, Lautenberg said Grant was racist and tied the radio host’s racially insensitive comments to his Republican opponent. Lautenberg’s campaign used this to mobilize black voters in the closing weeks of the campaign.
Calling opponents racist has and will be a de facto position for the left when they run out of arguments. Unfortunately, Grant invited such criticism. Viewing his comments in context, they probably were not racist, but such statements—especially taken collectively — display perhaps an over the top lack of sensitivity.
After the Los Angeles riots of 1992, he said, “I can’t take these screaming savages, whether they’re in the African Methodist Church, the A.M.E. church, or whether they’re in the streets, burning, robbing, looting.” A comment he clarified was aimed at violent rioters. Of Haitian boat refugees he said, “If they drowned! Then they would stop coming.”
During the campaign, Grant took Lautenberg’s attack as a compliment, telling his listeners, “Bob Grant carried Christie in. It’s boomeranging,” and urged them to vote the incumbent out of office. But when some of the same Democrats, African American ministers and civil rights groups pushing Lautenberg’s campaign shifted pressure to Whitman, even leading a demonstration outside the capitol in Trenton, she almost instantly caved. She went on his show, lectured him, said she was offended, and vowed she would not return to the program.
Grant accused critics of Stalinism, a Pearl Harbor attack and a crucifixion. However, when callers to the show acted in outrage, he simply joked about the entire matter. An angry caller to the program later said of Whitman, “She should fall down on her knees and ask forgiveness.” Making fun of the entire matter, Grant said, “WASPs don’t do that. They don’t fall on their knees. You’re thinking Italians or Greeks.”