Phony robocalls tell Democrats to "relax"
Several residents have called the newsroom to report that they have received robocalls implying that Gov. Martin O'Malley had won his re-election bid and that people should "relax."
"I'm calling to let everyone know that Gov. O'Malley and President Obama have been successful," the caller says, according to a recording provided by O'Malley's campaign staff. "We're ok. Relax. Everything's fine. The only thing left is to watch on TV tonight."
Residents reported receiving the calls around 7 p.m., well before the polls are slated to close at 8.
John Lundquist, a teacher who lives in Highlandtown, got the call on his answering machine at 6:44 p.m.
“It’s just amazing,” he said. “Here we are in the eleventh hour of the election, and these tactics are still going out. Whoever has paid for this call to go out is depending on voter apathy.”
Democrats swiftly denounced the calls and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake released a statement blaming former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich's campaign.
"Sadly, this kind of gutter politics that we have come to expect from Bob Ehrlich and the Republican Party," Rawlings-Blake said in a statement.
But an Ehrlich spokesman denied that the calls had originated from his team.
"It's new to us, we reject it, we condemn it," said campaign spokesman Andy Barth. "We don't want to mislead any voters or suppress the total. We want a clear, honest process."
Robert Hillman, 71, a semi-retired attorney from North Baltimore, said he received a call this evening. "What was most strange was there was no identification," he said.
And Heather Dewar, an editor with the Urbanite Magazine, reported getting two robo calls-- the female voice others received and one from Rep. Elijah Cummings, urging voters to ignore the phony call and remember that the polls are open until 8.
Calls from the phony female voice reportedly came from this number: 202-640-5113. Various web postings report unsolicited calls from that number regarding school board elections in Tallahassee, Fla., a candidate for mayor in Gadsden, Ala., and even someone purporting to be poet Maya Angelou.
The state Democratic part released a statement from Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake denouncing the robocalls.
“I was deeply troubled to hear this misleading robo call targeting Baltimore City residents urging them to relax and stay home as if the the election was over and the polls have been closed,” Rawlings-Blake said in the statement.
“Sadly, this kind of gutter politics that we have come to expect from Bob Ehrlich and the Republican Party. In 2006, Bob Ehrlich’s campaign distributed intentionally false and misleading fliers intended to confuse minority voters and today they’ve reached a new low,” she said.
But Erhlich spokesman Andy Barth denied that the calls had stemmed from the Republican campaign and criticized Rawlings-Blake's statement.
"I am disappointed and surprsed that the mayor would be using the kind of language that she is, when, as far as I know, there's no evidence to suggest that it had anything to do with us," Barth said.
Attorney General Doug Gansler announced Tuesday night that his office would investigate the calls.
Attempts to track the number, which has a DC area code, were not immediately successful; when it is dialed back, the caller receives a dial tone, and database and search engines turned up nothing.
Complaints on various web sites about past calls from the number did not make clear the firm's political leaning, but they seemed to come from Democratic candidates. People have reported getting calls asking them to support the Democratic incumbent governor in Tennessee, Phil Bredeson, and a Democratic candidate for New York State Senate, Susan Savage. Others said they got calls seeking support for school board candidates in Florida, and a non-partisan mayor's race in Gadsden, Ala. (population 37,300). Another said they heard a voice that said he was a "lifelong Republican," but didn't elaborate on what the message was, and another was about a "person hosting a town meeting for Democrats."
Savage's Republican opponent for the New York state senate, Hugh T. Farley, told The Sun that the “robocalls” made against him had been "vicious." He said he never paid for any calls himself, referring to them as "counterproductive."
A call to Savage's campaign headquarters was not immediately returned, but New York state campaign finance records shows she spent tens of thousands on ads produced by a DC firm called GMMB Inc. That firm's web site prominently displays pictures of President Obama, Sen. Harry Reid and other prominent Democrats. But it was not immediately clear whether the firm was behind Savage's call.
-Julie Scharper and Justin Fenton