Elections

Robocalls, Tactics Become Issue As Senate Race Reaches Home Stretch

OPB | Oct. 27, 2008 2:02 a.m. | Updated: July 17, 2012 1:13 a.m. | Bend, OR

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By Ethan Lindsey

A week from Tuesday, Oregonians will find out who will represent them in the U.S. Senate: Pendleton Republican Gordon Smith or Democratic state House Speaker Jeff Merkley.

And as the race draws to a close, campaign strategy becomes critical. Ethan Lindsey reports on one tactic that has drawn scrutiny.


Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama just cut his first ad for Merkley.

Barack Obama Ad: “Oregon, you have a choice. Do you stick with the failed Washington policies that put CEOs and special interests first, or do you choose real change? That change is Jeff Merkley.”

But this year, it's a less-glamorous campaign tactic that has taken center stage:

Robocalls.

Recorded political or campaign messages have become a major issue in Oregon and the nation.

Republican John McCain is using robo-calls to tie Obama to former radical anti-war protester William Ayers.

Not all Republicans agree with the tactic.

Sarah Palin: “If I could wave a magic wand, I would be sitting at a kitchen table with more and more Americans talking to them about our plan to get the economy back on track and how to win the war. And not having to rely on the old, conventional ways of campaigning that includes those robocalls.”

And it's not just Republican VP nominee Sarah Palin.

Senator Gordon Smith sent a letter to the liberal website the Huffington Post calling negative robocalls “not appropriate.”

Gordon Smith: “People are crying out for civility, and the worst kind of lie is a half truth. And you can push things in a way that are just deceitful, and can be dishonest.”

Smith’s campaign says it has no information about robo-calls in Oregon.

But the conservative advocacy group Freedom’s Watch is spending hundreds-of-thousands in support of Smith, and that includes robo-calls.

Here’s a call that was left on an answering machine that was later sent to Jeff Merkley.

ROBOCALL: “Incredibly, some politicians like Jeff Merkley are working with the union bosses to take away your basic rights to vote in private on whether or not to join a union.”

Merkley campaign spokesman Matt Canter says Smith should do more to end robocalling.

Matt Canter: “Whether he started or not, Gordon Smith supporters are out there, spending millions attacking Jeff Merkley with robo-calls, spending millions on television attacking Jeff Merkley.”

Smith says, legally, he can’t do anything besides publicly ask for them to  stop.

But he says the complaint is hypocritical anyway.

Gordon Smith: “I’m not one to take directions on ethics from Jeff Merkley.”

Smith is referring to the fact that Merkley voted for a bill that made robo-calling people on the federal ‘Do Not Call’ list illegal. Then, during the contested Democratic primary, Merkley ran just such robo-calls.

Merkley’s campaign says it has not made any robo-calls since January 1st.

Senator Gordon Smith says he's proud of the campaign he's run.

Gordon Smith: “I feel like one of the great privileges of my life was to represent Oregon in the U-S Senate. But I’ve never felt I owned this seat. I’ve just been fortunate to have it for a time. If they want to start over at 100, Oregon shoots itself in the foot.”

The contest is so heated, more than $20 million has been spent thus far, with more to come in the final week.

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