BANGOR, Maine — Maine Democrats and even Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins on Friday blasted a recent round of GOP-sponsored automated calls denouncing Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.
Some area residents came home Thursday afternoon and evening to the “robocalls” on their answering machines. In the automated message, the caller claims Obama “worked closely with domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, whose organization bombed the U.S. Capitol, the Pentagon, a judge’s home and killed Americans.”
In the 29-second message, the unidentified male says the Republican National Committee and the campaign of U.S. Sen. John McCain and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin paid for the call. The automated calls that began Thursday, the day after the final presidential debate between Obama and McCain, are being made not only in Maine, but also Nevada, Wisconsin and other targeted states.
During a press conference at the Maine Democratic Party headquarters in Bangor on Friday morning, Rep. Sean Faircloth, the Democratic majority whip of the Maine House of Representatives, called the message “extremely improper” and said the RNC’s move paralleled McCarthyism.
“It’s sad they’ve sunk this terribly low in the McCain campaign,” he said. “It is very unfortunate, and we hope that all Maine citizens, when they get dirty phone calls and [experience] cheap tactics, that they will report those and let people know.”
Collins, who is facing her own re-election fight against Democratic Rep. Tom Allen while serving as co-chairwoman of McCain’s Maine campaign committee, also expressed her dismay with the recorded calls.
“These kind of tactics have no place in Maine politics,” said Collins spokesman Kevin Kelley. “Senator Collins urges the McCain campaign to stop these calls immediately.”
Faircloth and the Obama campaign urged Mainers to report any negative calls they receive at the following Web site: www.fightthesmears.com/report.
Faircloth said Obama was in third grade when Ayers was active in the Weather Underground, an anti-Vietnam war group that claimed responsibility for bombing several government buildings, including nonfatal explosions at the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol, though not a judge’s home.
Ayers remained a fugitive for years but surrendered in 1980. Charges against him later were dropped because of prosecutorial misconduct. Eventually, he became a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and lives in Obama’s neighborhood in Chicago.
In 1995, Ayers was host to a meet-the-candidate session at his home for Obama as he prepared to run for the Illinois Senate. The two also served on the boards of two nonprofit charitable organizations in Chicago. The city named Ayers its “Citizen of the Year” in 1997 for work on one of those boards.
Obama has condemned Ayers’ radical activities.
The RNC on Friday seemed to stand by the content of the calls, releasing a statement reiterating Obama’s connection to Ayers.
“Barack Obama’s befriending of an unrepentant domestic terrorist and his unwillingness to acknowledge the extent of their relationship shows an incredibly troubling lack of judgment on Obama’s part,” RNC spokesman Blair Latoff said.
Obama spokeswoman Jessica Santillo said she did not know how many Mainers received the calls, but the Maine Democratic Party received complaints from people all over the state.
Bangor resident Virginia McIntosh, 42, came home at about 1:30 p.m. Thursday to hear the message on her answering machine. She replayed it several times before calling a local Democratic office.
She said the message was “very, very disturbing.”
McIntosh said the message “scared me, not to not vote for Barack, but to not vote for McCain and Palin because of these scare tactics that they’re coming out with. It just appalls me.”
She said she plans to vote for Obama.
John G. Geer, a political scientist at Vanderbilt University who specializes in studying negative advertising, said such calls “may stimulate turnout, but they would have to be targeted to the right people. It could backfire, and if the attacks get in the mainstream media, the push back, too, could be substantial.”
The Associated Press and The Washington Post contributed to this report.