However, special attorney general Louis Leonatti testified in court: "I have looked at 1,500 pages of documents. I have been involved in twelve depositions. I have not seen anything to indicate any criminal conduct."

Martin says the investigators' final report vindicates him. "I assure you," he tells RFT, "if you get investigated by the attorney general, and they find something you've done that was wrong, you'll be prosecuted."

And though Martin left state government in the wake of Memogate, he never left the spotlight.

Republican challenger Ed Martin has raised $1.2 million as of September 30, 96 percent of it from individual donors.
Jennifer Silverberg
Republican challenger Ed Martin has raised $1.2 million as of September 30, 96 percent of it from individual donors.
Martin at his south-city campaign headquarters. He calls the basement "The Freedom Bunker." (The building next door? "The Freedom Annex.")
Jennifer Silverberg
Martin at his south-city campaign headquarters. He calls the basement "The Freedom Bunker." (The building next door? "The Freedom Annex.")

On the eve of President Barack Obama's election, an independent political committee called the American Issues Project ran ads linking Obama to "'70s radical" William Ayers. Martin was the group's founder.

When the Belgium company InBev geared up to take over Anheuser-Busch in 2008, Martin launched his "Save AB" nonprofit to "fight the foreign invasion." Last year, the group's website began pointing visitors to Martin's congressional campaign. (His critics accused him of violating federal election rules.)

But the Carnahan campaign won't let anyone forget about Memogate. It has created a Flash video game modeled after Pac-Man that they call Hackman: Ed Martin's head darts around gobbling up e-mails. Players rack up not points, but "tax dollars wasted."

Hackman may be a first in America: the video-game attack ad.

Martin fancies himself an outsider in this race. His ads portray him as someone who's never run for office and will bring greater transparency to government. Yet Memogate was the ultimate insider controversy, and Martin was right at its center. The most charitable interpretation, Democrats say, is that Martin violated the spirit, if not the letter, of the Sunshine Law.

Not that it will mean anything to undecided voters, suggests political science professor George Connor.

"There are two sides to that scandal," he says. "I cannot believe that it will have any impact on this race. [Memogate] is all about firing up the base."

A crowd of about 400 people chants "Ed! Ed! Ed! Ed!" as all three 3rd District candidates file into an Arnold gymnasium for a debate on the evening of September 30. Ed Martin beams like a child just pinned with a blue ribbon, his grin so wide it practically touches the shoulders of his opponents, Russ Carnahan and Nicholas Ivanovich of the Constitution Party. This crowd is Martin's crowd.

Even in the comfort of his office, Martin squirms incessantly. He grabs things off his desk and bends them. He runs his hand up and down the back of his head and scratches his arm. He once checked his cell phone in mid-sentence, then tossed it across the room to avoid temptation of checking it again.

Supporters have warned him not to fidget, and so tonight, with hundreds watching, he sits almost woodenly.

But rhetorically, he keeps jumping off the top ropes for the body slam.

Asked about abortion, Carnahan stresses the need to prevent unwanted pregnancies, to render abortion a "rare choice."

He passes the mic to Martin. They make almost no eye contact this entire evening.

"I'm not sure whether he's using Pelosi talking points or not," Martin booms over the P.A. system, "but it sounds like he's saying he's for abortion."

Carnahan gets asked for his take on the military's "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy. Just like many generals, he says, he doesn't support it. America needs more soldiers, he explains. We shouldn't be excluding capable and willing patriots.

Martin, emboldened by the reaction so far, responds by swinging for the fences: "I'm here for the translation: Congressman Carnahan supports gay marriage."

The crowd seems confused. A titter spreads. The moderator warns Martin to stay on topic.

"I'm getting there," he assures her.

Later, in private, Martin will admit that he leapt too far ahead. He sometimes does that in his race to score points.

"I was pummeling him," Martin says. "I gotta credit him for discipline. He's either numbed, or he's disciplined."

After the debate, Martin gets mobbed by well-wishers. He hugs a lot of old ladies. Many are volunteers for his campaign. He knows their first names.

"Ed Martin walks into a room, and it's like he's walking into a high school reunion," Tea Party cofounder Bill Hennessy observes. "He just loves people. You can't cover it up."

Martin and his entourage are the last people to leave the gymnasium. Near the door, he shakes the hand of two young employees of the recreation center.

"Hi, I'm Ed Martin," he says.

One of them, a short girl whose smile reveals braces, tells RFT that Martin introduced himself on the way in, too.

But she can't help Martin. She's in high school. Not old enough to vote.

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