I'm going to talk about Blair Hull, but I have to tell you a story first.
Nobody thought Terry Link had a chance back in 1996.
Link was running for an Illinois Senate seat in a Republican-leaning, Lake County district. He was a surefire loser.
But Link worked hard and his Republican opponent wasn't much of a candidate. I started to believe he had a shot. Most people thought I was nuts.
Eventually, though, the Senate Republicans looked at their polling and didn't like what they saw. Link was closing the gap.
So, they hauled out the big guns. They announced that Link was a "deadbeat dad" who hadn't paid his child support.
Link counter-attacked right away. He and his ex-wife held a press conference to denounce the Republican claim as completely untrue. His ex praised Link for being a caring, involved, generous father.
The GOP slam backfired. Senator Link's victory was the biggest upset of the year.
OK, on to Blair Hull.
Just a few days ago, Hull was leading his nearest challenger by 10 points in every poll, and his big advertising buy hadn't even kicked in yet. He was starting to look like a winner.
Then, one poll last week found that his support had dropped ten points in a single day.
You've heard the stories, so you can probably figure out why Hull is looking vulnerable.
Several years ago, Hull's wife, who is now his ex-wife, took out an order of protection against him after some sort of altercation. She claimed he hit her shin, he claimed she hit him first.
I am not someone who will never forgive a mistake. I make plenty of them myself. We are all flawed. And we are all capable of bettering ourselves.
And there's no evidence yet that what took place between Hull and his then-wife has ever happened again.
But Hull has a really big problem.
Terry Link was active in his community when he ran for the state Senate. But he was not a particularly well-known person. After the Republicans attacked, nothing short of an impassioned defense by his ex-wife would have saved his skin. Nobody would have believed him otherwise.
Hull is completely unknown to the vast majority of voters. Sure, we've seen his TV ads. How could you miss them? And isn't it sweet of him to take those old people to Canada to fill their prescriptions?
Still, when that ugly bit from his past surfaced last week, we really didn't have any way to evaluate the new information. We only knew Hull through those ubiquitous 30 second spots.
Hull hasn't remarried since his last divorce, so he doesn't have a ready-made defender. He was engaged at one time, but that ended with him moving out and her continuing to live in his $2.6 million home.
Contrary to popular belief, reporters generally would rather not write about the private lives of public figures. But, sometimes there is no choice, and that moment came after Hull's ex repeatedly refused to defend him. The silence was obvious.
A single statement might have taken Hull off the hook. If her words were strong enough, Hull probably wouldn't have been forced to unseal his divorce records. Instead, when those documents were opened we discovered that his ex had claimed Hull was "a violent man with an ungovernable temper."
I'm not blaming Hull's ex whatsoever for not coming forward. She has her reasons.
The blame here falls on Hull's shoulders. He was told by his staff that this incident would be a big campaign issue. If he didn't have the full support and backup of his ex-wife, he shouldn't have run in the first place.
After the story broke, he made a bad situation worse by offering up lawyerly explanations about what happened and failed to accept direct responsibility. Telling reporters that his ex-wife was responsible for the delay in unsealing their divorce records didn't help either, particularly after her attorney said it wasn't true.
These sorts of situations have a tendency to deteriorate. The fact that Hull didn't bother to vote for 15 years is now being used to further tar his character.
More slick TV ads and another bus trip to Canada won't help. Money and gimmicks can't solve this problem.
Terry Link didn't buy advertisements to demonstrate his integrity. He just proved he had it all along. So far, Blair Hull isn't measuring up to that example.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter. He can be reached at www.capitolfax.com.