Mainstream media outlets are attributing the apparent tightening of the race for Congress to some combination of George W. Bush's campaign efforts, the Republican Party's efforts to inspire its base, John Kerry's Iraq blunder and plain old inevitability.
Could deceptive GOP robo-calls also be part of the explanation?
Maybe there's somebody out there who actually enjoys hearing prerecorded phone calls from politicians and their supporters. We thought it was pretty cool the first time we picked up our phone and heard Bill Clinton on the other end of the line. Hundreds of calls later, we put down the receiver as soon as we hear that telltale moment of silence that comes just before a recorded message starts to play. We've never been persuaded by a single call, but we've been annoyed by many, many, many of them.
The GOP seems to understand what's happened here. As Josh Marshall has been reporting at Talking Points Memo, the National Republican Campaign Committee appears to be using robo-calls to push voters away from Democrats in races all around the country. The tactic? Record a call that mentions the Democratic candidate right at the beginning, then load the negative stuff about the candidate into the end. If the recipient of the call listens to the full message, he or she hears a dose of negativity about the Democratic candidate. If the recipient hangs up before the message runs its course, the computer dials the same number repeatedly, leaving voters with the impression that the Democrats, not the Republicans, are the ones bombarding them with repeat calls.
Marshall has rounded up reports of such calls in congressional races in Illinois, Pennyslvania, New York and elsewhere. When Illinois' Barrington Courier-Review asked an NRCC spokesman about the repeat calls, the spokesman said there must be a problem with the contractor the Republicans hired to do the calls or with the computer that is making them. In New Hampshire, a state law makes it illegal to place political robo-calls to state residents who have signed up for the national Do Not Call registry. The NRCC -- taking the GOP's usual federalism-is-great-except-when-it-isn't stance -- says it's going to keep making robo-calls in the state regardless of what state law says. "We are a federal organization campaigning about a federal race," an NRCC spokesman tells the Boston Globe. "We feel that New Hampshire law does not apply to what we are doing."