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Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2008

Taking the Low Road

McCain’s outrageous robocalls reveal his desperation

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Less than 24 hours after Republican presidential nominee John McCain said that he wasn’t interested in an “old washed-up terrorist” and the Republican National Committee (RNC) acknowledged that they were pulling advertising from Wisconsin to concentrate on closer races, a blast of inflammatory recorded phone messages, known as robocalls, was broadcast here and in many swing states.

The calls linked Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama with rehabilitated anti-war radical William Ayers, the “old washed-up terrorist” who became the centerpiece of the McCain/Palin campaign.

Last Thursday, residents of Wisconsin, New Mexico, Virginia, Maine, Florida, North Carolina and Missouri heard the following recorded message:

“Hello, I’m calling for John McCain and the RNC because you need to know that Barack Obama has worked closely with domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, whose organization bombed the U.S. Capitol, the Pentagon, a judge’s home, and killed Americans. And Democrats will enact an extreme leftist agenda if they take control of Washington. Barack Obama and his Democratic allies lack the judgment to lead our country. This call is paid for by McCain-Palin 2008 and the Republican National Committee at 202-863-8500.”

The Washington, D.C., number offered in the robocall was jammed, resulting in repeated busy signals.

Other McCain/Palin-RNC robocalls alleged that Obama and his fellow Democrats “now want to give civil rights to terrorists,” “got caught putting Hollywood above America,” and will add “another $1 trillion” in government spending.

The Republican Party of Wisconsin did not return a call seeking comment for this article. But Kirsten Kukowski, the state GOP’s communications director, defended the calls in an interview withThe Capital Times.

“We’re making sure that the voters have the information that they need to make the right decision in November,” she said.

Robocalls are inexpensive ways to make contact with voters, but most campaign veterans argue that they’re largely ineffective unless they’re targeted to specific voters who are already sympathetic to the candidate’s message. (Based on calls of complaint to the Shepherd and other media reports, that wasn’t the case.) Voters also seem to be turned off by the anonymous recorded message and nasty, negative tone.

But fostering negativity may be McCain’s strategy—to tamp down enthusiasm for Obama in the least expensive, broadest way possible.

Gov. Jim Doyle, a vocal supporter of Obama, denounced the calls and said they’d turn off voters who had thought that McCain was an “honorable politician.” Doyle noted that McCain had denounced similarly inflammatory calls that were made by then Texas Gov. George W. Bush in the 2000 South Carolina Republican primary, alleging that McCain had fathered a biracial daughter and that his wife, Cindy, “was a drug addict.”

Indeed, The Nation reported that the company contracted to make last week’s phone blasts—FLS Connect—was linked to those South Carolina smears.

Doyle seemed to take pity on the Republican nominee, who’s trailing Obama by 12 to 15 points in Wisconsin, according to the latest polling.

“In the final analysis, as [McCain] finds himself down in the polls, he’s making his last-ditch effort [and] he’s engaging in exactly the kind of tactics that he’s widely condemned,” Doyle said in a conference call last week. The governor said the calls were most likely intended to distract voters from McCain’s lack of ideas about fixing the economy.

Doyle said McCain’s ride on the low road was so repugnant that McCain had to use a recorded phone message by an anonymous voice. “It shows that he’s obviously ashamed of what he’s doing,” Doyle said.

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