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Losing Candidate Cries Defamation

ANACAPA, Calif. (CN) - Robert Mitchum's son sued the California congresswoman who defeated him in November, claiming her ads defamed him by clipping one of his interviews to make him look like a "narrow-minded Tea Party advocate."

Chris Mitchum, a Republican, claims Democrat Rep. Lois Capps and her campaign committee defamed him in the final stretch of a heated race. He sued her on Tuesday in Santa Barbara County Court.

Capps, who has been in Congress since replacing her late husband in 1998, represents California's 24th District. Mitchum entered the race as an underdog, having lost his bid for the same seat during a primary two years earlier, but polls showed the race was tight as the election neared.

Then Capps' campaign began running radio and TV ads that Mitchum calls defamatory.

The quote at issue came from an interview with Cal Poly TV, during which Mitchum told an interviewer: "I do not intend to go to Washington to represent the 24th District to bring back baseball fields. That's not why I am going. I am going to fight for my country, and I happen to come from the 24th District."

Capps' TV ad cut the quote after the words, "I do not intend to go to Washington to represent the 24th District." The narrator said: "Chris Mitchum is not for the middle class," and claimed the Mitchum's "tea party agenda" would cut Social Security and Medicare and eliminate student loans.

The radio ad stated: "Chris Mitchum was asked a simple question: 'How do you plan on representing the Central Coast if you're elected?'", then followed with the partial quote: "I do not intend to go to Washington to represent the 24th District."

Mitchum says in his lawsuit: "The ad completely altered the meaning of Mitchum's statements and portrayed Mitchum as a hypocrite and a narrow-minded 'Tea Party' advocate who planned to go to Washington not to represent the 24th District.

Bill Carrick, a consultant with the Capps campaign, said Capps had not yet been served with the complaint and could not comment. "But she is proud of the campaign she ran and is confident there is no validity to this frivolous lawsuit," Carrick said in a statement.

In October, Chris Meagher, then the campaign spokesperson for Capps, said he had no problem with the ad.

"Mr. Mitchum has said from the very beginning, through two political campaigns, that he intends to go to Washington to represent a very narrow political philosophy," Meagher told local news station KEYT.

During the final two weeks of the election, Mitchum claims, he led in polling until the Capps campaign flooded the airwaves with the misleading ads.

"The release of these ads containing the edited statements of Mitchum changed the outcome of the election in Capps' favor," the complaint states. "She won re-election by a very small margin, far and away smaller than in any of her previous 'elections.'"

Capps won the election with 51.9 percent of the vote, to Mitchum's 48.1 percent, according to official results.

Mitchum seeks punitive damages for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Mitchum, the son of film noir actor James Mitchum, also is an actor, who has appeared in more than 60 films.

In addition to his two campaigns for Congress, he unsuccessfully ran for state Assembly in 1998.

He is represented by Joshua Lynn, with Lynn & O'Brien, of Santa Barbara.


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