Just how fast does the Republican National Committee’s opposition research machine kick into gear?

We found out this morning. Literally within minutes of John Kerry’s announcement that John Edwards would be his running-mate, the RNC posted a profile with the screaming headline “Who is Fred Baron?” Fred Who?

The profile, first published in September 2002, reads thusly: “Personal injury trial lawyer Fred Baron thinks he runs the Democrat Senate [remember, this was 2002]. Not surprising, considering his millions in Democrat contributions and his cozy relationship with fellow personal injury trial lawyer Senator John Edwards,” proclaimed the RNC. Actually ahead of the RNC was the Associated Press, which told us last month that Baron’s sphere of influence has gone way beyond the Senate. AP’s Sharon Theimer wrote:

Wealthy and well-connected lawyers who fueled John Edwards’ upstart White House bid have given at least $7 million to John Kerry since he secured the Democratic nomination, an important show of support for Edwards as Kerry weighs running mates.

Of the roughly $74 million Kerry raised in March and April, close to $1 in every $10 came from attorneys, Kerry’s most recent campaign finance reports show.

Baron’s role as a Kerry/Edwards backer undoubtedly will be spotlighted during the impending Senate debate over tort reform, a high priority for Republicans. As Helen Dewar wrote in today’s Washington Post:

In a confrontation of powerful political interests, the battle pits the business groups, which tend to support Republicans, against trial lawyers and consumer, civil rights and environmental groups that work more closely with Democrats. Business interests contribute heavily to Republican campaigns, while trial lawyers are a major source of campaign money for Democrats.

Consider this a post-holiday freebie from Campaign Desk, dear readers. You probably got out of bed today without recognizing the name “Fred Baron.” Trust us. Given the way the press feeds on the bait tossed out by both Republican and Democratic oppo research operations, by tonight you’ll think you’ve known the guy for years.

And when Fred Baron’s name comes up at the water cooler tomorrow morning, you won’t be left flat-footed.

Susan Q. Stranahan

If you'd like to help CJR and win a chance at one of 10 free print subscriptions, take a brief survey for us here.

Susan Q. Stranahan wrote for CJR.