Ignoring widespread criticism, even from within his own party, John McCain's presidential campaign launched on Wednesday a fresh and vicious wave of robocalls designed to paint Barack Obama as soft on crime, a big government liberal, and in one, a possible risk to the safety of American families.
Readers from all parts of the country -- including Wisconsin, North Carolina, Colorado, Missouri, Virginia and even Montana -- reported being deluged with calls throughout the day; their voice mails filled with dire warnings, occasionally delivered by right-wing celebrities.
Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani was contracted out by the McCain camp to go after the Illinois Democrat for being soft on sex offenders and drug dealers.
"Hi, this is Rudy Giuliani," the message went, "and I'm calling for John McCain and the Republican National Committee, because you need to know that Barack Obama opposes mandatory prison sentences for sex offenders, drug dealers, and murderers. It's true, I read Obama's words myself."
Another call would reprise the "bittergate" controversy that plagued Obama during the Pennsylvania primary half a year ago
"Hello," said the caller. "I am calling for John McCain and the RNC because Barack Obama says small town folks like us cling to our guns because we are bitter. And elitist Democrats want to control Washington and completely ban handguns and most hunting rifles. The NRA said that Barack Obama would be the most anti-gun president in American history."
Later in the day the sleaze factor was ratcheted up a notch, when Talking Points Memo reported a call that -- for several readers -- seemed reminiscent of the Willie Horton ads that helped submarine Michale Dukakis in 1998.
"Barack Obama has voted against tougher penalties for street gangs, drug-related crimes, and protecting children from danger," went the script. "Barack Obama and his liberal allies have a disturbing history of coddling criminals. So we can't trust their judgment to keep our families safe."
Not all calls were designed to scare voters away from the Democratic ticket. Two readers in Wisconsin reported receiving robocalls that blasted Obama on policy grounds: such as pushing for government run health care and jeopardizing social security.
"Hello, I am calling for John McCain and the RNC because Barack Obama and the Democrats have jeopardized Medicare and Social Security with their proposed massive government takeover of health care and will be reducing access to doctors and slowing development of lifesaving drugs," was the reported script.
But that call was generally overshadowed by some of the McCain campaign's more incendiary efforts. Late Wednesday night, it was reported that automated calls were being made that included segments of a controversial Fox News program that claimed, among other things, Obama consorted with radicals.
The totality of the robocall campaign left many officials -- both Democrat and Republican -- in a sense of awe and, occasionally, disprovable. Gordon Smith became the fourth Republican Senator over the past week to denounce the tactic. Meanwhile, observers and strategists -- taking their cues from the polls -- were wondering what utility (beyond being cheap) robocalls served McCain's presidential ambitions.
"We, so far, found a perfect record of it never working," said Donald Green, director of Yale University's Institution for Social and Policy Studies, who studied the effect of robocalls in campaigns since 2000. "No one particularly welcomes these calls, even when they're from an organization to which one is generally sympathetic."
Obama himself responded to the onslaught Thursday morning, declaring, during an appearance on CBS, that he could not imaging saying things about an opponent that McCain had said about him.
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