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Posted at 02:55 PM ET, 08/23/2012

Israel trip turns congressional travel into campaign issue in North Carolina race

Rep. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C., is being targeted for travel. (Harry Hamburg - AP)
The “Congressmen Gone Wild” antics in the Sea of Galilee have spawned a few things: some unfortunate mental images (a skinny-dipping congressman--eek!), plenty of cable-news chatter — and the emergence of congressional travel as a salient campaign issue.

Usually not deemed sexy enough for electoral mud-slinging, the topic was elevated to soundbite-ready status by that now-infamous trip to Israel.

To wit: Steve Wilkins, the Democratic nominee challenging Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.), used the hook of the Israel trip (which Ellmers was on) to chastise her for fancy travel habits.

“While the rest of the country was watching the ugly debt ceiling debate and the embarrassing downgrading of our credit rating, Rep. Ellmers was planning a vacation paid for by special interests.” Wilkins said in a press release. “People in this district and across the nation are struggling, and they need a representative that’s focused on their needs instead of lavish foreign junkets.”

The Israel trip was paid for by the American Israel Educational Foundation, which is allowed by House rules that permit Members of Congress to go on trips funded by outside groups, as long as the organizations don’t hire lobbyists.

Ellmers’s chief of staff Al Lytton called the charges a “distraction,” saying the people in the congresswoman’s district had bigger concerns. “The real issues here are jobs and the economy,” he said.

But for the moment anyway, congressional travel is officially on the map.

By  |  02:55 PM ET, 08/23/2012

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