Laura Vozzella: Robocall a dirty trick, but whose?

Election Night robocall, and speedy Democratic response, have people guessing

November 03, 2010|By Laura Vozzella, The Baltimore Sun

The last time Election Day shenanigans played out in Maryland, homeless Philadelphians got a day trip to Maryland, a welcome from then-first lady Kendel Ehrlich, $100, a couple of meals and a T-shirt.

This time around, the only thing anybody got out of the dirty trick was an annoying dinner-hour robocall. Or in some cases, two calls.

Between 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday — before polls closed at 8 p.m. — Baltimore residents reported receiving an automated call telling them to "relax," that Gov. Martin O'Malley had won re-election. "The only thing left is to watch on TV tonight."

About the same time, some Baltimoreans got a second robocall, this one from Rep. Elijah Cummings, warning them about alleged Republican efforts to suppress voter turnout. Democrats, recalling the homeless Philadelphians bused in to hand out misleading campaign material for Ehrlich and then-Senate candidate Michael Steele at the polls four years ago, immediately blamed O'Malley's Republican opponent.

"Sadly, this is the kind of gutter politics that we have come to expect from Bob Ehrlich and the Republican Party," Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said.

But the swift response by Cummings — Heather Dewar, an Urbanite Magazine editor and former Baltimore Sun reporter, said she actually got the congressman's call before the "relax" one — gave rise to a conspiracy theory: that the Dems were behind both calls. That would make Republicans look bad, the theory goes, and increase Democratic turnout in the process.

For the record, the Ehrlich and O'Malley campaigns said they had no hand in the "relax" call.

As for the Cummings call, Mike Christianson, counsel to the Cummings campaign and a longtime aide to the congressman, explained how it came about. About 6:30 p.m., someone from Organizing for America, an arm of the Democratic National Committee, contacted Cummings to alert him to the "relax" call, Christianson said. That person asked Cummings to record a rebuttal call, offering to supply a script if need be.

"They gave him a number, and he recorded the call, I think, within 15 minutes," Christianson said.

Christianson said he has heard from people who thought the swift response looked fishy.

"There are people who expressed that," he said. "I would have to say, at least personally speaking, we didn't feel a great need to make Bobby Ehrlich and his campaign look bad. They were doing enough on their own to achieve that goal."

I concede. Beep.

After nasty political campaigns, those concession phone calls must be pretty awkward.

Bob Ehrlich may have found a way around that.

Instead of talking to Martin O'Malley on Election Night, Ehrlich phoned the governor's mansion while O'Malley was out at his victory party and left a message.

Makes sense. Ehrlich used to live there, so he knows the number.

That's according to a source close to O'Malley. I tried to double-check that account with Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell. But he wasn't sure that the two had spoken, only that Ehrlich had called.

"I know a call was placed," Fawell said. "I don't know beyond that."

Brotherly concern

While the Dems mostly held their own in Maryland, their losses nationwide hit home for former Baltimore Mayor Thomas J. D'Alesandro III, whose kid sister, Nancy Pelosi, lost her job as speaker of the House.

"In politics, it's a question of cycles," said D'Alesandro, who was mayor from 1967 to 1971. "You win some, you lose some. … She's a great girl, and she's etched into the history of this country — the first woman to become the Speaker of the House."

There was a bright spot on the national scene for D'Alesandro, who watched election returns at the home of former Baltimore County Executive Ted Venetoulis. Way back in 1976, D'Alesandro and Venetoulis co-chaired Jerry Brown's campaign for president, and the state went for Brown over Jimmy Carter. So D'Alesandro and Venetoulis were pleased to see Brown reclaim the California governorship in Tuesday's elections.

"He's really a political genius," D'Alesandro said. "He's something else."

Update that resumé

Now that Ehrlich's campaign is over, whither Womble?

Not that I really care about the fate of a North Carolina law firm's satellite office in Baltimore. I just like the sound of "whither Womble."

But if Ehrlich does go back to his job at Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, it will be interesting to see which one it will be. The high-powered Big Oil "lobbying" gig the Dems alleged he had? Or the no-show front for political scheming, which the Dems also said he enjoyed?

And what about all the nonlawyer Ehrlich State House aides who managed to find work at Womble these past four years? Will they still have a home there?

Ehrlich spokesman Fawell, a Womble Carlylian until leaving for the campaign, said their plans are yet to be determined.

"We're 12 hours removed" from election results, he told me Wednesday afternoon. "Too early to say."

Sleeping through it

Early-to-bed, early-to-rise John R. Leopold, the Republican Anne Arundel county exec who is in the office by 7 a.m., didn't have a victory party. Leopold watched returns on TV, as he always does, spokesman Dave Abrams told The Sun's Nicole Fuller. Leopold was asleep by the time Democrat Joanna Conti called to concede about midnight.

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