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Correction to This Article
A Nov. 7 article about automated campaign calls incorrectly described Angela Elliott of Fairfax Circle as a registered independent and Jane Edmondson of McLean as a registered Democrat. Virginians do not register by party affiliation.

It's a Candidate Calling. Again.

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By Charles Babington and Alec MacGillis
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, November 7, 2006

This year's heavy volume of automated political phone calls has infuriated countless voters and triggered sharp complaints from Democrats, who say the Republican Party has crossed the line in bombarding households with recorded attacks on candidates in tight House races nationwide.

Some voters, sick of interrupted dinners and evenings, say they will punish the offending parties by opposing them in today's elections. But critics say Republicans crafted the messages to delude voters -- especially those who hang up quickly -- into thinking that Democrats placed the calls.

Republicans denied the allegation, noting that their party acknowledges its authorship at the recorded calls' end. After citizens' complaints in New Hampshire, however, the National Republican Congressional Committee agreed to end the calls to households on the federal do-not-call list, even though the law exempts political messages from such restrictions.

Whether "robo-calls" are positive or negative, mean-spirited or humorous, thousands of Americans are sick of them, according to campaign organizations that have been fielding complaints over the past two weeks.

An Ohio woman, who did not leave her name, called The Washington Post in tears yesterday, saying she could not keep her phone line open to hospice workers caring for her terminally ill mother because of nonstop political robo-calls.

Pamela Lorenz, a retired nurse in Roseville, Calif., called her own experience "harassment as far as I'm concerned" and said, "If I were voting right now, the opponent who's doing this, he'd be off my list for throwing that much trash."

Hour after hour and day after day for two weeks, Lorenz's home has received the same NRCC recorded message attacking Charlie Brown, the Democrat who is challenging Rep. John T. Doolittle (R) in a hard-fought battle in northeastern California. "It is a recorder calling," Lorenz said. "I can't call it back to get them to stop."

Voters in Northern Virginia have been exposed to fewer of the aggressive "push poll" type calls than elsewhere. But they said they have been getting so many of the conventional automated calls plugging candidates that they have started hanging up as soon as the recordings begin or screening them with caller ID.

"I hang up as soon I hear it start. I've already heard most of what people have to say. I don't have time to listen to them," said Angela Elliott, a Fairfax Circle resident who is registered as an independent and has been getting more Democratic calls than Republican ones.

Nicholas Beltrante, of the Alexandria section of Fairfax County, said he has been getting an average of three to five automated calls per day from both Democrats and Republicans. "I made up my mind weeks ago, and the moment I identify them as one of those calls I just hang up," he said.

As annoyed as they are, Northern Virginia voters said their irritation will not prompt them to vote against the campaigns placing the calls, because the calls are positive in nature.

Jane Edmondson, a McLean community activist, registered Democrat and Democratic donor, said she has stopped answering calls that appear as 800 or 877 numbers on her caller ID, for fear that they are robo-calls. At church Sunday, she said, she and others were jealous of one churchgoer who said his caller ID identifies campaign calls as "political calls." "We all said, 'Why don't we get that?' " she said.


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