How can you vote for a guy who acknowledges his campaign tried to game the forthcoming election?
That's the $64,000 question in the closely watched Seventh Congressional District race between Republican Patrick Meehan and Democratic State Rep. Bryan Lentz.
Jim Schneller, a conservative third-party candidate, is also on the ballot, but he has the same chance of winning as the Phillies have to sweep this year's World Series.
Think of Schneller as Lentz's running mate. That's because Lentz's campaign workers gathered thousands of signatures needed to get Schneller on the ballot. The goal was to use Schneller to siphon conservative votes away from Meehan.
Lentz said volunteers came to him in the summer with the idea and he gave the green light. Lentz fessed up to the scheme this month, but he didn't apologize for it. Instead, he blithely shrugged it off.
"Look, politics is politics," Lentz said in a recent meeting with the Inquirer Editorial Board.
Well, this is the issue in this race.
It's about character. Voters should think twice about a candidate who thinks it is OK to help rig a race.
I suggested to Lentz that gathering signatures for another candidate seemed very Nixonian. Lentz quipped that Meehan was Nixon, and he was Kennedy.
Maybe Joe Kennedy in West Virginia. But Lentz is no JFK. Neither is the guy Lentz helped put on the ballot.
Schneller is what the media politely refer to as a fringe candidate. He makes Christine O'Donnell look credible.
If miraculously elected, Schneller would want to eliminate the Federal Reserve, the Department of Energy, and several other federal agencies he says are unconstitutional.
Schneller also supports making abortion illegal, including when a woman becomes pregnant through rape or incest. He wants a commission to investigate the Sept. 11 terror attacks to determine if bombs were used to destroy the World Trade Center.
Schneller isn't an attorney but says he is "fully trained in the law." He has clogged the courts with a variety of unsuccessful lawsuits, including one accusing hospitals of murder and another challenging President Obama's citizenship.
If this is what it takes for Mr. Lentz to go to Washington, then voters should not be surprised if things remain politics as usual down there. Lentz's time in Harrisburg may have warped his view of public service.
That's not to say Meehan is going to be the next Tip O'Neill. He is anything but a smooth politician. That's one of the things that makes him different from the blow-dried and blowhard types.
Meehan was an excellent prosecutor, both as a district attorney in Delaware County and as the U.S. attorney in Philadelphia.
But the transition from prosecutor to pol hasn't been easy. Meehan has had some stumbles in his debates with Lentz. He hasn't done a good job of articulating a compelling vision for his campaign.
Instead, Meehan has adopted many of the GOP talking points. But he doesn't seem convinced that's the best course.
Meehan supports repealing the new health-care law because of the costs. But he acknowledges Obama would veto any repeal. Meehan says the repeal effort would create a "genuine dialogue."
That's the more centrist Meehan talking. After all, Meehan got his start in politics working for Sen. Arlen Specter (D., Pa.) when he was a moderate Republican. The Drexel Hill resident and former hockey referee is not a right-winger by any stretch.
If anything, Meehan's record as a prosecutor says more about him than the rhetoric on the campaign trail.
He distinguished himself as the U.S. attorney in Philadelphia, rooting out political corruption.
Critics say Meehan targeted Democrats. Perhaps, but where are the Republicans in Philadelphia? I would take Meehan over a Democratic U.S. attorney who looks the other way while pay-to-play becomes the standard way to do business at City Hall.
Prosecutors can't indict someone for his political affiliation. They have to mount a case. Meehan did that.
Just ask former State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo, perhaps the most powerful and influential politician in Philadelphia the last two decades. He is now in federal prison thanks to the corruption case brought by Meehan's office.
The even more audacious case involved the federal bug that was planted in former Mayor John F. Street's office. Who knows where the indictments would have ended if the bug hadn't been discovered days later. Even still, a number of Street cronies and administration officials went to jail.
That corruption investigation changed the entrenched culture at City Hall. At the end of the day, that has been good for taxpayers regardless of their political affiliation.
That speaks volumes about Meehan.
E-mail deputy editorial page editor Paul Davies at firstname.lastname@example.org.