The latest bombshell in an already mud-smeared state Senate campaign landed in mailboxes throughout District 4 this week in the shape of an oversized post card. "Greetings from the Kentucky Derby," reads the message below a color photograph of a smiling Democratic Sen. Karen Thurman and her husband, Circuit Judge John Thurman.
A handwritten note on the back reads, in part: "Hi! Having a wonderful time at the Kentucky Derby. ... Wish you were here."
It is signed, simply, "Karen."
The furious incumbent denounced the mailing Tuesday as "lies, forgery and deceit" on the part of state GOP officials and her opponent, Tom Hogan.
The Dunnellon Democrat said no permission ever was given to use the photograph, taken by a racing official, or her signature. She also said the ad contains several factual errors.
Thurman said she plans to have it examined to see whether any laws were violated. "My signature was a forgery."
A spokesman for the state Republican Party, which has targeted this as one of several key races statewide, said the post card is a legitimate piece of campaign literature. The GOP produced the advertisement for Hogan.
Though the ad came from the state GOP and not Hogan's campaign, Thurman said, "he ought to be responsible for his own campaign."
"We don't expect anyone to believe that she really (wrote) that," said Stan Smith, the spokesman. "It is rather a mockery of her poor political judgment."
Smith said he thinks the ad is a "terrifically effective piece of mail" that contains valid criticism.
"She took those trips," Smith said. "We're not trying to distort anything. We think we've presented a case that is just part of politics."
Smith wasn't surprised at Thurman's anger. "It was designed to upset her," he said.
In a box overlaying the hand-written portion on the back of the post card are a few paragraphs criticizing the Derby trips. "Come on, Karen. Quit horsin' around," it says.
Thurman characterized the mailing as an especially dirty trick in an already vicious Republican campaign, in which Hogan has accused her of accepting trips from lobbyists and of selling out to special interests.
"He wants to talk about ethics?" asked Thurman, waving a copy of the post card in her Inverness campaign headquarters. "This is ethical?"
Though Smith said the card is accurate, Thurman said it contains several errors:
The accusation that her trip to the Kentucky Derby was "at the expense of lobbyists." The photograph on the front of the post card shows the 1988 Derby, which Thurman attended but says she paid her own air fare. Hogan says the costs of that trip and one the year before were paid by special-interest groups.
The ad says the trip took Thurman away from the Legislature at a crucial time. "This was on a Saturday," she responded.
A postscript at the bottom of the ad, supposedly written by Thurman, says, "Don't forget to pick up and deposit my Senate paycheck." Thurman said her checks are deposited directly into her bank account.
Hogan of Brooksville has said Thurman's trips and campaign contributions from the oil industry and other special interests are valid issues, and he has accused Thurman of avoiding talking about them.
"This wasn't my idea," Hogan said of the post card. "But I wish I had thought of it."