'60s Radical Ayers Among Subjects of McCain 'Robo-Calls'

By Robert Barnes and Mary Pat Flaherty
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, October 18, 2008

The 1960s radical William Ayers was not invoked on the campaign trail yesterday, but for anyone living in a battleground state, his name may have been left on an answering machine.

Ayers and his connection to Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama are at the heart of an ambitious "robo-call" campaign from GOP nominee John McCain and the Republican National Committee, part of a $70 million get-out-the-vote operation underway in electorally important states.

"Hello. I'm calling for John McCain and the RNC because you need to know that Barack Obama has worked closely with domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, whose organization bombed the U.S. Capitol, the Pentagon, a judge's home and killed Americans," a voice says in the automated calls that have been heard in Virginia, Ohio, Florida and elsewhere.

The short call adds: "Barack Obama and his Democratic allies lack the judgment to lead our country."

The message is among what one Republican campaign worker described as "a couple of hundred" different calls that the GOP plans to employ, tailored to different states and areas and paid for by state parties, the RNC or the McCain campaign.

Among calls being made are joint ventures by McCain and the RNC that also criticize Democrats for wanting to "give civil rights to terrorists," call Obama's position on abortion "extreme" and even blast the Democrat for attending a Hollywood fundraiser during a period of economic turmoil.

Obama supporters in Virginia and elsewhere have complained to the media about the calls, and so has his campaign. Even Republican Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) expressed disapproval, with her spokesman telling a state political publication yesterday that she wants "the McCain campaign to stop these calls immediately."

Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor said "John McCain's campaign has admitted that the economy is a losing issue for them, so he's chosen to launch dishonorable and dishonest attacks like this."

Vietor acknowledged that the Obama campaign is using robo-calls as well, but would not be specific about what the calls say.

Robo-calls in the closing days of a campaign have become ubiquitous, even if their utility is unclear.

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.''

Often robo-calls whisper about an issue that the candidates do not want to discuss on the campaign trail. But that is hardly the case with Ayers, who co-founded the radical group the Weather Underground. McCain and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, have talked about ties between Ayers and Obama as recently as Wednesday night's presidential debate.

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