Political Animal


September 29, 2012 9:13 AM Romney’s Lyme Disease Mailer: A Play for the Christian Right?

By Simon van Zuylen-Wood

If you live in DC’s Northern Virginia suburbs, you may have received a Romney campaign mailer vowing to eradicate Lyme Disease, “A Massive Epidemic Threatening Virginia.” At least a few incredulous residents already have, which sent the slow-news Friday media into a giggle fit.

But make no mistake, people. Northern Virginia takes Lyme seriously. As I reported this summer (see sidebar) Loudoun County has spent $20,000 soaking its public parks with high-octane pest repellent, and Governor Bob McDonnell created a statewide taskforce on the disease in 2010. Go hang out in NoVa government buildings and you’ll find Lyme pamphlets for the taking. In other words, ginning up fears about Lyme may prove to be a smart bit of retail politics. And it might also be a backdoor way of mobilizing evangelical support. Here’s how.

The claims made in Romney’s mailing, which echo an August letter he wrote to the co-chairs of the House Lyme Disease Caucus, reflect the findings of McDonnell’s taskforce. The man who chaired that taskforce, Michael Farris, is no epidemiologist. Farris is the Chancellor of evangelical Patrick Henry College, and President of the Home School Legal Defense Association. Farris, who says his wife and seven of his ten children have the tick-borne disease, estimates that one in six Virginians are infected. (The CDC reported 756 Virginia cases in 2011.) He also argues the disease is chronic, a claim the Infectious Disease Society of America says is bogus. Experts be damned, Romney’s all ears.

On September 13th Farris was invited into the Romney tour bus for a chat with the candidate and his strategist Stuart Stevens, after a rally in Fairfax City, Va. Farris, who has been an outspoken critic of Romney’s, seems to have changed his tune after their conversation, during which he advocated getting the CDC “out of the way.” “Romney had a family member that had just been diagnosed with Lyme Disease,” Farris told me. “He was concerned.” Farris continued: “I was favorably impressed with my visit with him. I felt like he really listened.”

One more tidbit: Farris said he’s doubly encouraged by Romney’s support after having being spurned by the Obama administration. In October 2011, Farris told me, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Nancy-Ann DeParle called him to talk Lyme; apparently, a friend of Obama’s had been diagnosed, and the President was growing concerned. So, DeParle set up a January 2012 meeting between Farris and a doctor at the Department of Health of Human Services. Farris, whose own findings are not exactly mainstream, never heard from the White House again.

Simon van Zuylen-Wood is a writer for Philadelphia Magazine.


  • martin on September 29, 2012 9:26 AM:

    Welcome aboard.

    So all politics is local, even in politics soaked Northern Virginia.

    And apparently all Republicans prefer non-science based hackery to the real thing. Good to know not much changes.

    Captcha warns: Contains publeet

  • Hedda Peraz on September 29, 2012 9:41 AM:

    In Other News, there is an outbreak of "Sanity" in Northern Virginia. It is suspected the disease is spread by Registered Democrats.

  • MuddyLee on September 29, 2012 9:43 AM:

    Maybe some of these republicans will discover they have friends or relatives affected by climate change next - or gasp - friends or relatives who are part of the 47 percent - or maybe friends or relatives who pay a higher federal tax rate than Mitt does.

  • DRF on September 29, 2012 9:54 AM:

    The reporting here seems a bit light. What's the problem with the state commission other than its belief that the disease is chronic? And why is there a Federal issue at all? Are the state's efforts inadequate?

  • Ronald on September 29, 2012 9:55 AM:

    several things pop into my head:
    1) if Mr. Romney has to work this hard to 'gin up' Christian Right support- in Virginia no less- then that shows me that his campaign is getting very desperate indeed.
    2) This trope is nothing more than the usual 'Government baaaaad' whinging that we've heard from the Right all along. I mean, c'mon, the CDC is in on a 'conspiracy'? Puh-leeze.

  • c u n d gulag on September 29, 2012 9:56 AM:

    If government can't do anything to help people, and if government can't do anything right, then a Conservative likd Farris should have preferred Obama's laissez faire approach of listening and not doing anything about it, than of Romney promising some help if he's elected.

    What's Mitt's 10-word message here?
    "I'm here from the government, and I'm here to spray?"

    Besides, what can we do about blood-sucking parasite's who don't care that people get sick and die while they feast?

    And why ask a tax-dodging one like Mitt what to do about the ticks, which are merely insects?

    I know!
    Let's tax the blood-suckers!

    But I still don't know what we do about the ticks.
    I don't know what else to say, except - let us spray.

  • kevmo on September 29, 2012 10:01 AM:

    Seems to me that Romney is walking on a fine line here. He can't plug too much for a Federal role because that might tick off (sorry, couldn't resist) the local GOP Governor McDonnell, who might feel Mitt is suggesting his Administration can't handle the problem.

    Also, suggesting there is a national role in a public health issue might make Romney look like he thinks the Federal government is capable of actually doing something worthwhile. You can't go around as a Republican saying things like that.

  • jcricket on September 29, 2012 11:01 AM:

    Seriously, Mitt is after the chronically hysterical vote.

    I don't mean "hysterical: Ha-Ha", either.

  • Joe M. on September 29, 2012 11:11 AM:

    Lyme disease can be chronic, though it is not chronic in every case. My sister has suffered from Lyme for the last two or three years. It's a horrible thing. So it's very disheartening to see Democrats denigrating the seriousness of Lyme in a reflexive partisan reaction to Romney's pandering.

  • Nancy Cadet on September 29, 2012 11:31 AM:

    Thanks for the context on the Romney "Lyme disease micro targeting" of voters. I read about it and thought it was odd for a Presiential candidate. it's the kind of topic I'd find, justifiably, in my local Congress rep's newsletter; Lyme is a huge problem in The Northeast and our excellent , progressive CD1 Dem rep Tim Bishop, pushes for more research and funding, as he does for fisheries, erosion remediation of beaches, etc. Local , economic concerns.

    The crazy seems to have made serious inroads in N Virginia. My niece, who lives there, says public transport is way too expensive and not comprehensive. Your article in City Paper sheds light on that too.

    Btw, our Congressman's GOP opponent is a bit of a mini Mitt: a carpetbagger from another state, wealthy entrepreneur whose made his bucks in outsourcing, his deal was office service, ie sending accounting services to India.

  • 14All on September 29, 2012 11:35 AM:

    You may argue as to whether it's a national or local issue, but it is a serious one. See the CDC's interactive map:


    Perhaps "regional" would be a better description, since cases have skyrocketed mostly in the northeast and mid-Atlantic in the last twenty years.

    There is conventional medical resistance to the possibility of some cases becoming chronic, I think, mainly because treatments are expensive and insurance coverage unlikely. The general consensus among physicians who do accept the possibility of chronic cases is that if the bite is discovered within a month to sixty days and antibiotics given, chances of recovery are very good. The chronic cases I've seen have been folks who did not realize they had been bitten at the time, because the characteristic bullseye-shaped rash does not always appear. Initially one has a short flu-like illness that does not seem out of the ordinary, and only later do chronic symptoms appear.

    These patients do not always test positive on standard tests, but on PCR tests, which are fully accepted by the scientific community, they do test positive. The problem is finding a physician who is willing to explore the possibility of tick-borne disease and order a more expensive test.

  • SecularAnimist on September 29, 2012 11:37 AM:

    Lyme disease is, in fact, quickly becoming a very serious problem in Virginia and Maryland. Don't let the Republicans' shenanigans obscure that fact.

  • Snarki, child of Loki on September 29, 2012 11:51 AM:

    Wow, Willard has reached the point where he's less popular than Lyme disease?

    The best "treatment plan" I've seen is specialized "deer feeders": deer put their head in to get the food, and rubs anti-tick insecticide on their neck. If there's a deer population problem, put some anti-fertility drugs in the deer feed. Oh wait, Willard is against mandatory birth control.

    Feral cats are also useful, in keeping the wild mouse population down, since the tick life cycle runs between deer, mice, and GOP lobbyists.

  • c u n d gulag on September 29, 2012 11:55 AM:

    I know how bad this is - I live in Dutchess County, NY, and we have one of the highest rates in the state - maybe the country.

  • labman57 on September 29, 2012 12:02 PM:

    It seems a tad hypocritical for a blood-sucking Republican candidate for POTUS who doesn't give a crap about the health care needs of the uninsured to be attacking the poor, Lyme disease-carrying tick.

  • Rick B on September 29, 2012 12:20 PM:

    I guess when your candidacy is based on tribalism and emotion as the conservatives prefer rather than on rational thought it should be no surprise that the conservative tribal political candidates should try to cater to the fears of the population.

    Romney seems to be trying the "Be afraid!! Then vote for me to save you!!" ploy. That must be harder to successfully run on when the candidate is widely disliked personally as Romney is, though. But for an authoritarian who shouts his message and totally ignores all responses I can see why they might think it useful.

  • smartalek on September 29, 2012 12:27 PM:

    Yes, one would expect something like the old line about why sharks famously won't attack lawyers: "professional courtesy."
    Then again, Publicans are also not shy about eating their own.
    I do believe "Donner, party of nine -- make that eight -- no, seven," was in Utah, no?

  • Clamdigger on September 29, 2012 1:06 PM:

    I can't remember what Romney thought about lyme disease on Cape Cod when he was governor. (which is quite common). However, the Cape had been rabies free for quite a long time, as the commonwealth paid $70,000 per year for edible vaccines on the Cape side of the canal.

    That was too much money to spend. And now, the Cape has cases of rabies. (which cost others a lot of money).

    Penny-wise, pound-foolish (or dollar foolish).

  • TCinLA on September 29, 2012 1:07 PM:

    The Donner Party incident happened near Donner Lake, California, not far from where I-80 crosses the summit of the Sierra Nevada. Just sayin'....

  • Monadnock on September 29, 2012 2:12 PM:

    Connecticut's former Attorney General and present US Senator, Richard Blumenthal is another prominent democrat who has challenged the prevailing CDC wisdom on Lyme disease. As Attorney General, he led an investigation that found serious conflict of interest on the part of some members of the 2006 panel that established the current treatment guidelines. Right now, I'm looking at a July 30, 2009 article in the Hartford Courant titled, "Lyme: What's the Right Course." This issue is NOT similar to doubts about global warming or arguments for intelligent design. It reflects a real division within the medical community about a condition that debilitates many people. I would suggest that Mr. Zuylen-Wood do a bit more research before he plugs this into a perhaps too convenient political frame.

  • Texas Aggie on September 29, 2012 3:09 PM:

    Actually if the disease is untreated, it does become chronic. It causes arthritis and occasional cardiac and neurological problems. And while the adult tick infests deer, the larval and nymphal stages infest mice with occasional erroneous infestation of people or dogs.



  • Deb Magnus on September 30, 2012 10:23 AM:

    Shame on those of you who need to make this more political than it already is! Lyme disease is a serious illness, if not treated early. It is costing our society MILLIONS of dollars! Most of those stricken with late stage Lyme disease go through multiple tests and MD visits before learning that they have Lyme disease. Many are misdiagnosed with Parkinson's disease, Lou Gehrig's disease, MS, Lupus, and even Alzheimer's disease before learning that they are infected with Lyme disease. The symptoms overlap many of these illnesses and depending on where the bacteria has spread, it affects no two people in the same way.

    This horrible disease has cost me my hearing and I had to give up a job that I loved because I could no longer manage the tasks. By the way, I took an UNPAID medical leave. With treatment, I have been able to gradually go back to work, but I must work part time and rest when I get home. I am looking forward to resuming my previous functioning levels, but it is going to take lots more treatment and time. Lyme disease spreads to the nervous system quickly, if the bacteria is not eradicated. It often takes years of antibiotic treatment to make a person well, and some may never be free of the Lyme bacteria because it travels into your tissues, organs and often, the brain.

    Columbia University has some very informative studies on disseminated Lyme disease, and in fact, is hosting a conference on Lyme disease this weekend. Doctors from all over the country have been invited and encouraged to attend so they can learn how to better understand this perplexing illness.

    Standard testing for Lyme disease is highly inaccurate. I had 3 negative Western blot tests before several subsequent tests validated a diagnosis of Lyme disease and at least 2 other co-infections from ticks. Unfortunately, brain MRI's and a brain spect scan indicate that it has infected my nervous system.

    Without finding a bulls-eye rash, Lyme disease can easily be missed. If you have a good immune system, you may be able to get by with some mild joint pain through the years, following a bite by an infected tick, as I did. Before Lyme disease, I never suffered from depression, and I exercised daily, ate a healthy diet and contributed to society by raising two wonderful daughters with my husband, working and volunteering in the community.

    This disease knocked me for a loop. It is in the same family as syphilis - and if you know anything about that, it can linger in your body for decades before wreaking havoc. The Lyme bacteria is even more complex than those found in syphilis because they can change forms, hide in dense colonies, and shut down your immune system so you can't win the battle. This is a disease that needs much more research. Read Pamela Weintraub's book, Cure Unknown, and perhaps it will open your eyes.

    I have been a Democrat most of my life. The ugly and ignorant comments being made in these replies make me want to move to the other side. When you or your loved ones are stricken with this HORRIBLE disease, I would like to see your comments then.

  • Cre on September 30, 2012 1:20 PM:

    Exactly what Deb Magnus just said. Brava! Thank you, Deb, for pointing out the truth of the matter. Although those of us with late-stage Lyme are used to being kicked to the curb (try doing the same to a cancer patient -- unconscionable), the hostility and disinfo seen here are enough to make me switch affiliations. There is no more compassion left in the US, obviously.

  • The Right on September 30, 2012 3:24 PM:

    There is far more hatred from the left than the right.

  • powerofnow on September 30, 2012 4:49 PM:

    Those in the IDSA are not morons. The few that run it are very powerful in the medical field. One small change in thier guidelines can literally mean hundreds of millions of dollars for a drug maker. These drugmakers spend huge sums of money to influence those few doctors. Doctors who applied to be an IDSA member who treat Chronic Lyme were all denied admission. Thier studies and years of work is knowingly excluded from the IDSA guidelines. It can take 20 years for chronic Lyme to develop. Syphillus is caused by a similar spyrochete bacteria. They are shaped like corkskrews and they literally ‘drill’ through tissue. They prefer lower oxygen enviroments so they exit the bloodstream this way. Thats why the blood based test for Lyme they use is not reliable. A negative Lyme test means little. There is a more reliable test but they don’t recommend that one for some reason. ( On a side note, one of the Doctors in the IDSA has a patent pending on a new Lyme test. Conflics of interest are not dealt with. ) This damage adds up and can take 20 even 30 years before the person cant walk, or experiences severe pain from bacteria literally eating thier nerves.

    Ever hear about those infamous experiments where African Americans did not recieve Syphillus treatment while others did. Both groups were studied for many years. Many without the Syphillus treatment developed severe chronic ailments much like Chronic Lyme 20 to 30 YEARS after they were infected. Syphillus has been called ‘the great imitator’ because it can look like numerous other diseases.

  • waituntilaLOVEDone gets Lyme on October 01, 2012 8:50 AM:

    People ignorant to Lyme disease writing these articles is laughable. The disease can persist and there are studies proving this. Why don't you do a little research before making such ignorant statements. The CDC admits that the reported case account for ONLY 10% of all cases. Lyme disease and other various co-infections are an epidemic in Virginia. Anyone who has not come to this realization is lucky b/c it means you or a loved one has not suffered from it. Consider yourself lucky at this point.

  • incredible on October 01, 2012 9:45 AM:

    Wow, Simon, your ignorance of Lyme, combined with your obsession about conspiring Republicans (I'm an indy) is astonishing. Are you on meds for delusion? If not, you need to get some.

    Since you failed to investigate, and you seem to prefer the ISDA version of Lyme, for some reason, I hope that yo never get Lyme.

    If you do, you will be BEGGING for a doctor that ignores the ISDA protocol, and chooses to help you instead.

    You are a complete idiot, making up political conspiracies out of thin air, while you are also complete boob regarding Lyme disease.

  • james on October 01, 2012 9:47 AM:

    Silly article. Wait till you or someone you know gets the infection, and it will happen eventually. Its a hard battle to get well when you have this type of disinfo or noninfo working against you as well as the CDC and related agencies. I got the mailer and you got my vote with it Mr. Romney. Side Note: George Bush jr. got the lyme disease back during his presidency(documented press release by the white house)- remeber his slurred/ error laden speeches(lyme symptoms). Good luck to anyone fighting the disease. You can get better.

  • ajw93 (@ajw93) on October 01, 2012 9:55 AM:

    @c u n d gulag, Dutchess County FTW. (I grew up there.) Yes, there are a lot of deer and Lyme is a problem (my mother and her husband have each gotten it at least once), but at least people can hunt out here in the sticks. The overpopulation of deer has gotten completely out of hand, and in places like Fairfax there's virtually no way to hunt. This came up something like ten years ago or so and there were elaborate plans to bring in professional bow-hunters and set them up in hides for a few days. I don't know what you can do in such a densely populated area. The insecticide "feeding" idea is an interesting one, but then you just invite the, you know, hungry deer.

  • PoliTicks on October 02, 2012 9:30 PM:

    Michael Farris, as quoted in PolicyCounsel.org, stated,

    I am convinced, after shaking tens of thousands of hands in the last year and talking to countless people, that people generally are willing to elect the conservative over a liberal or over a moderate, provided two things. First, that the person is qualified. And, second, that the conservative is not scary.

    What I plan to do should I run again is to have lots of early advertisements showing myself and my family. I've got a bunch of cute kids. I should show ads with me out being a softball coach and then lots of me talking to people. In the past campaign, I won about 70 percent of the vote of people who actually heard me talk. If people feel they know me, it will be an inoculation against a lot of "He's a scary conservative" charges in the future.

    Indeed it seems that Farris may be exploiting the Lyme disease patients in order to make himself appear "not scary", as he described, possibly in a move towards public office. The patients serve as he describes as being "dedicated people can win enormous good will for the cause of conservatism by being the best foot soldiers for the whole ticket across the whole state."

    CNN quoted Farris "A Republican presidential candidate can't win without a fully mobilized evangelical base. It's impossible for Romney to win the general election without evangelicals," said Farris."

    Farris in PolicyCounsel.org stated, "And we are not targeting just people who can give larger sums in federal races but those who can give less than the maximums."

    In correction to your article, Farris has ten children. He states that because 7 of his children have been diagnosed with chronic Lyme, that it is the best evidence available the it is transmissible from mother to newborn. http://www.wusa9.com/news/article/157219/28/Could-Pregnant-Women-Transmit-Lyme-Disease-To-Their-Kids

    According to his more recent reports, Farris, his wife and all ten children are now infected with chronic Lyme disease.

  • PoliTicks on October 02, 2012 9:35 PM:

    Farris is quoted in PolicyCounsel.org, stating,

    "political parties don't pay taxes. There's got to be some way to have an organization that doesn't pay taxes yet it could be as partisan as it wants and give money to candidates." Alan and I have done the work to start a Section 527 organization. It's brand new in your lexicon of sections out of the I.R.S. Code."

  • Pearl on October 08, 2012 6:10 PM:

    I am so disappointed in your uninformed opinion piece. Ticks do not discriminate in who they bite. Liberals, conservatives, and moderates alike have all suffered miserably from Lyme Disease and the medical establishment that refuses to admit they are wrong about it and acknowledge it for what it really is.

    There is ample evidence that the CDC and NIH have covered up opposing scientific information and that the IDSA aggressively opposes anyone within their ranks and outside, who suggests the "official" party line on Lyme is inadequate.

    Those on the IDSA Lyme Committee get a steady stream of grant money from the CDC and NIH to do circular studies to reinforce their opinions. They certainly won't design a study that might contradict them, nor will the CDC or NIH fund a study from an ILADS doctor that might contradict them. Some of these "Lyme Deniers" sit on editorial boards of the prestigious journals, or make money from their recommendations or pet projects (e.g. royalties on recommended but inadequate tests, vaccines)

    If you don't believe a government agency can be in on a medical conspiracy or can be incompetent, just read the stories of the Tuskegee experiements, the St. Louis radiation experiments, and the emergence of AIDS ("And the Band Played On," by Randy Shilts.