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Columbia Missourian

Missouri Democrats counter Republicans with automated phone calls

By Katy Steinmetz
October 23, 2008 | 8:04 p.m. CDT

The Democrats' new automated phone call, featuring Republican-cum-Obama -supporter Lynn Weber, is intended to counteract four or five automated Republican phone calls circulating throughout Missouri.

COLUMBIA — Columbia residents might be hearing something new when they pick up their phones. A Democratic automated telephone call that began circulating in Missouri this week is intended to be a "counter-punch" to those being sent by Republican Sen. John McCain's campaign, former Missouri Gov. Roger Wilson said Thursday morning.

He spoke at Columbia's Barack Obama headquarters.

The automated calls, sometimes referred to as robocalls, are produced and sent out by campaigns. Both parties use them, but only Republican presidential nominee John McCain’s messages have featured prominently in national headlines thus far.

“They’re outrageous,” Wilson said. “It’s just nastiness thrown up on a wall to see what will stick.”

The Democrats' new automated call, featuring Republican-cum-Obama supporter Lynn Weber, is intended to counteract four or five automated Republican phone calls circulating throughout Missouri.

The McCain calls feature lines such as, “Hello, I’m calling for John McCain and the RNC, because Democrats are dangerously weak on crime” and “Barack Obama says Midwest folks like us cling to our guns because we're bitter.”

Wilson’s particular beef is that the voices used in the McCain calls are not identified and “firing from ambush," which is why he continually pointed to the transparency of the Democrats’ new phone call, in which Weber begins by identifying who she is and where she lives.

A resident of the Missouri River town of Marthasville since 1997, Weber is a Democratic campaign manager’s dream. She said she passively supported McCain in 2000 but was inspired to switch sides and start actively campaigning in the name of Obama. She said Obama has run his campaign with integrity and thinks he will make positive changes for the middle class.

Weber decided to help make the automated call not because she’s against negative campaigning but because of the timing, she said. The country is in the middle of its worst economic crisis in decades, she said, and the issues people should be concentrating on are the economy and health care. She objected to McCain using his time to send messages “creating fear and danger with voting for Obama” instead of suggesting solutions for the nation’s problems. 

Weber said she was particularly put off by an automated call she received that tried to link Obama to Bill Ayers, a Chicagoan known for radical activism.

McCain's calls are “distracting voters from what is really important,” Weber said.

Columbia resident Cheri Reisch, who is a Republican, noted that “under law, it is legal to send” automated calls and that “both parties use the system.”

“It’s just another means to get the message out, whether it’s a positive campaign message or a negative message,” said Reisch, who acts as vice chairwoman for the Boone County Republican Central Committee.

Asked whether she thought her automated phone call, which primarily addresses the actions of McCain's campaign, also moves the public discussion farther away from the issues, Weber said she is  just an "ordinary person," not a “political operative.” She said she couldn’t speak to possible political effects of the tactic but feels strongly the negative calls have "gone too far" and need to be addressed.

Weber did not write the script she used when recording the call from her home earlier this week. But she said some suggestions she made on a rough draft were incorporated into the final version.

“Our intention with the call is to set the record straight,” said Justin Hamilton, Missouri press secretary for the Obama for America campaign. The negative calls from McCain, he said, “point to a level of desperation.”

Reisch said she has received multiple automated phone calls and believes people can perceive the same messages as positive or negative, depending on their personal frame of reference.

“It’s up to the voter to research the issues and make an informed decision,” she said.