Newly-minted congressman Bill Foster: Not a black man. Not saddled with a radical pastor. Never—as far as I know—declined to wear an American flag pin in his lapel.

Still, the race he just won in Illinois’s 14th District was a small-scale test of how damaging the insufficient-patriotism attack, which Obama’s adversaries are just starting to float, can be, and the answer is: maybe not very.

Foster ran in the special election to take over Denny Hastert’s seat, a solidly Republican district that went Bush by ten points in ‘04. The NRCC’s strategy against him was to paint him as a sort of scary, secretly-Howard-Zinn-loving Other, calling him “extreme” and “left-wing” over and over and pouring money into running a shadowy ad depicting criminal-looking people in tatters running through the bushes (the illegal immigrants Foster wants to invite into our country, of course) and a lone soldier surrounded by dust (the proud troops Foster wants to abandon).

Foster, on the other hand, basically shamelessly used Obama’s campaign as his template (His victory announcement? “Yes We Did!”) and ran a big ad featuring Obama’s endorsement well after Obama’s Wright problems began. And on March 8 he breezed to victory in a district the Almanac of American Politics last fall said would be “tough … for a Democratic candidate to win.”

Now, Foster’s opponent was a notoriously grumpy ice-cream kingpin, not a war hero, so he did have it a little easier. But the most interesting aspect of the Foster race might be that, as Bob Benenson reported, a poll showed that more than half the voters in that Republican district were repelled by the NRCC’s ad. We tend to assume the charge that a Democrat doesn’t care about America is a trump card, deadly as soon as it’s leveled. But voters aren’t idiots, and this stuff really can backfire.

Just how much dough did the NRCC blow on this loser of a line against Foster, again? Twenty percent of its total cash on hand. Oh. It hurts. 

--Eve Fairbanks