How desperate have Democrats become to keep their grip on power?  Even some of their colleagues have become disgusted enough with their machinations to start speaking out in New Jersey’s 3rd CD, where John Adler faces a strong challenge from Republican Jon Runyan.  According to sources within the party, the Courier Post reports that Adler backed a phony “Tea Party” independent candidate to split the conservative vote:

Congressman John Adler’s campaign and the Camden County Democratic Committee recruited “”NJ Tea Party” candidate Peter DeStefano to confuse conservative voters and hurt Adler’s Republican challenger this fall, Democratic operatives say.

“The goal was to take 5 percent of (Republican Jon) Runyan’s vote,” said a Democrat with direct knowledge of the Adler campaign and CCDC operations.

“Steve Ayscue designed the plan with Geoff Mackler following his lead.”

Ayscue is a high-profile Democratic consultant who runs the CCDC. Mackler is Adler’s campaign manager.

Several South Jersey Democratic operatives with direct knowledge of the Adler campaign and CCDC operations spoke to the Courier-Post on condition of anonymity because of what they described as ethical qualms with Adler’s campaign.

Is this illegal?  It depends on state law in New Jersey, but at first blush, it doesn’t appear to break any laws.  In most places, though, being able to say “They can’t indict me for this!” is hardly a ringing endorsement of a political campaign (note: this analysis not valid in some areas of Illinois).

Rumors about DeStefano being a plant began this summer because no one in the local Tea Party movement had ever heard of DeStefano before a poll showed that he could make an impact in the race.  And no one knew about the poll until one of the campaigns highlighted it for the press.  Guess which campaign did that?

As the CP reminds readers, Adler specifically denied the allegation just a few weeks ago.  That puts Adler on the hook not just for the dirty trick, but also for lying about it personally.  If his campaign operatives knew about it and worked on the plot, it’s impossible to believe that Adler himself didn’t have some significant involvement in the conspiracy, too.  And if Adler claims otherwise, it still reflects poorly on his executive judgment in choosing staff and his ability to competently run his office.

Thanks to the CCDC involvement, the state Democratic Party will have a few questions to answer, too, about its ethics and honesty.  This could — and should — turn into a debacle for Democrats in New Jersey, and DeStefano should remove his Potemkin candidacy from the ballot forthwith.