To the surprise of few, Richard Burr’s “moderation” turns out to be a mask. Faced with his first real political threat, he has chosen the way of decades of demagogues. Not for him are bipartisanship and affable pragmatism. No: In Burrworld, fear-mongering appears to be the coin of the realm.

True, the NRSC never made many bones about this strategy. We all knew that they would emphasize Deborah Ross’s decades-old ACLU eccentricities. But the Burr campaign has taken this reprehensible approach to an extreme. Their whole message seeks to activate feelings of dread and paint Deborah Ross not just as wrong, but as a menace. Contrary to Burr’s image, nothing about his campaign has been “even-tempered.”

Consider the sheer range of his dark insinuations. The attacks on Ross’s sex-offender registry almost register as old news. Since introducing that issue, Burr’s henchmen have presented Ross as an apologist for rapists, a person whose critique of post-9/11 civil liberties abuses (which included torture, something Burr jokes about) as evidence that she does not deplore terrorists, and an advocate for—welcome back to the 90’s—flag burners. An ubiquitous online banner claims that Ross thinks “flag burning is right.” These attacks plumb the emotional depths of voters who the Burr campaign clearly does not respect.

There is a certain amateurishness to all this.The one-dimensional campaign he’s running speaks to Burr’s softness as a politician. He entered this race unprepared, because he has nothing to say for himself. So he’s pursuing a campaign of sloppy and hamfisted attacks on his opponent. Despite two decades in Washington, the substantive side of politics still escapes him.

It’s deplorable. And it may not work.

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