As Democrats targeted in new calls, candidates on both sides say they want clean campaigns

09/23/2014 05:02 PM

Now that Democrats are targets of a new round of phone calls, House candidates on both sides of the aisle say they’re irritated with the tactics of outside groups in competitive state House districts.

Democratic candidates confirmed to Pure Politics that an unknown group or groups have paid for robo calls and survey-like calls making accusations about their records and personal lives. This comes after Republicans were targeted in calls featuring some message testing.

One of the most targeted Democrats is state Rep. Jim Glenn in Owensboro. Glenn’s campaign manager told Pure Politics a group is making robo calls in the district that claim Glenn has not done much during his time in the chamber.

But Glenn, who has narrowly won his last two elections, has prepared for attacks and is ready to respond with a new ad about his legislative work and the money and projects he helped bring to his area.

The ad can be seen below:

But the most frequent calls being made are more push polls asking questions about the Democratic candidates.

An eye on open seats

An unknown group is using survey calls about Democrat Russ Meyer, the mayor of Nicholasville who is running to replace retiring Democratic state Rep. Bob Damron in the 39th District.

Damron told Pure Politics he received one of the calls about Meyer in which he was on the phone with the live caller for nearly fifteen minutes and asked not only about his support for candidates in the area but also what radio stations and cable channels he pays the most attention to.

Damron said Meyer’s record as mayor of Nicholasville is at the center of the attacks in the call. According to Damron, the caller asks “if you knew property taxes increased while Meyer was mayor, would that change your opinion of him?”

But Damron said that wording is not fair because the rise in property taxes stemmed from the school board’s decision and new schools being built, not because of Meyer’s action as mayor.

Meyer also told Pure Politics that he had heard of the calls from people in the district and that the messaging sought to distort his record as mayor. But Meyer said the people of the area know him and know his record and, if necessary, they will have a response.

Overall, Meyer said he would like to keep a clean race against his opponent, Republican Jonah Mitchell. Meyer said the calls are irritating to the voters receiving them and that he will continue to run on his record of fiscal responsibility and facts about his time in office, including the city’s AA bond rating.

In the open 10th House District, Democratic candidate Dean Schamore said he had heard from supporters about calls being made in that area. The district covers Hancock and Breckinridge counties and part of Hardin County and is being vacated by retiring Republican Rep. Dwight Butler.

Schamore told Pure Politics in a phone interview that he had heard from a half-dozen people in two of the counties in the districts about the calls which he believes were running over the last three weeks.

Schamore said the survey workers are asking the voters if they knew Schamore was opposed to right-to-work legislation. The caller then says that legislation, which would end open shops for unions, will bring jobs to the state.

But Schamore told Pure Politics he knew the calls were not coming from his opponent, Republican Alan Claypool, because he said both have vowed to run a clean campaign and have been able to engage in debate without negatives.

Schamore said he continues to run his campaign with the positive message of being a job creator, veteran, husband and father in his race to replace retiring Republican state Rep. Dwight Butler.

Other Democrats who confirmed to Pure Politics that calls were being made in their districts include Jacqueline Coleman who is running against Rep. Kim King, Rep. Suzanne Miles’ Democratic opponent John Warren, and Ashley Miller in an open seat race in Louisville.

Personal attacks in competitive races

While Miller does not know the contents of the call, she has heard from one voter in the area through the comments section of her website. The voter said he or she had received a call with “scandalous and misleading information about Ashley.”

Miller’s Republican opponent, Phil Moffett, also was the target of Democratic polling conducted last month in which he was told the calls implied he was prejudice.

In interviews with Pure Politics, both Moffett and Miller have said that they do not want the election to get dirty and at this point they both plan to run a clean campaign.

But the calls are not the only attacks Miller is bracing herself for. WFPL was first to report that a new site titled “Submerge Kentucky” will feature attacks on Miller and likely other graduates of the Democratic Emerge group which has many female candidates running in this round of elections.

From the WFPL story:

The attack site—SubmergeKentucky—is currently under construction. Screenshots obtained by WFPL show it hyped Miller’s work as a model and nurse.

Referring to the political newcomer as “Trashley Miller,” the page claims she is involved in providing “abortion referral services” for Planned Parenthood. It also slams Miller for appearing on a 2012 album cover by the Kentucky-based hip-hop group Nappy Roots.

It is unclear who is behind the “Submerge” site. No individuals or group has taken responsibility for its content. Information obtained through web service provider shows the site was created Aug. 4, but due to privacy settings no name or organization is publicly associated with it.

Another area getting hit up with political phone calls is the 6th House District in western Kentucky where Democratic state Rep. Will Coursey is running for re-election and facing the possibility that his legal issues could become campaign fodder.

A Democratic strategist told Pure Politics that Coursey’s legal bills were at the center of the calls, saying it has cost the state a large amount of money.

Coursey told Pure Politics he wasn’t aware of the claim made in the survey and said he doesn’t know where the polling firm got its figure. He said he footed the bill for his legal defense.

As Tom Loftus of the Louisville Courier-Journal has previously reported, the state approved a cap of $115,000 to be spent in the two harassment cases faced by the Legislative Research Commission.

According to the expenditures posted on the LRC website, that cap has not yet been reached as seen below.

Coursey’s Republican challenger Keith Travis told Pure Politics he had not heard about the calls or the contents of the calls but said the lawsuit could be a campaign issue.

“People have a right to know there are proceedings going on,” Travis told Pure Politics. “How it plays out in a campaign like this, I don’t have a strong opinion either way.”

The cost and effects of the calls

As for how much this type of message testing is costing, Damron told Pure Politics that from his experience as caucus chair and paying for live-caller polling happening in some of these districts is likely very costly.

While it is unclear who is conducting the calls or paying for them, Kentucky Democratic Party Chair Dan Logsdon told Pure Politics that the party expected these type of attacks.

“This is what Republicans do, and the closer we get to the elections the more we are going to see. But that is why we pushed our candidates so hard,” Logsdon said, adding that the Democratic candidates will be prepared to win despite the attacks.

But, as Pure Politics first reported, the Democrats conducted similar calls last month. In response to a question about how the calls from Republicans compare to their polling, Logsdon said there is a difference between conducting some message testing and another to paint all Democrats with a broad brush in these elections.

A call from Pure Politics to Republican Party of Kentucky Chair Steve Robertson was not immediately returned.

But in his phone interview with Pure Politics, Damron said this type of polling is to be expected in these elections because they are politics 101. But Damron said both sides have to be careful because while some of the messaging may work, if it is too exaggerated or false then the attempt could backfire, which is likely in these elections as many voters are already so tired of the negativity from other races on the ballot.


Subscribe to email updates.

Subscribe and get the latest political intelligence delivered to your inbox.