Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Update: Cameron Reverses Self on "Push Mailer"

It probably wasn't enough to qualify for a true tit-caught-in-the-wringer moment, but Kevin Cameron (R-HD19) sure wasn't ready for my call to his other job, despite my heavy hints on the subject on Friday at BlueO and then in a full article here, plus two messages on his campaign line. This morning the voice mail was full for Rebecca Tweed, campaign manager, ardent Republican, and Adams&Co flacker. Furious constituents and media flooding her line? Hardly; we don't delude ourselves to be that effective. Cameron struck me as someone totally unfamiliar with LO or blogs in general (as opposed to his opponent Brian Grisham, it turns out).

The voicemail blowout persisted into the afternoon. However, the candidates' phone numbers are included on public filing documents, which the SoS happily provides at a click's notice. After a brief delay while the call from "TJ of Loaded Orygun, in regard to the City Club campaign event last Thursday" was screened, Rep. Cameron answered the phone. I introduced myself (twice, as usual--"Loaded what?"), and asked about a flier presented at the debate by Mr. Grisham, and that he (Cameron) had said in response that it didn't come from his campaign. Cameron initially denied that he had made such a statement, but when I noted the payments to Gateway, he seemed to admit at least ignorance of the issue by saying, "You may be right."

I didn't think I'd gotten an answer yet: did his campaign pay for survey work that included that flier? Response: "Maybe it did, maybe it didn't." Well now it was my turn to stammer for a moment--did I just hear him right? He took the time to deny in a debate that it came from him, and now under questioning 4 days later based on his C&E's he's saying maybe it DID come from him?

OK, at this point we need to bring in the originating statement for the record. Bless CCTV, and specifically the people working on the campaign specials for Salem City Club. They have a full copy of the discussion available for download here. Choose Forum #2, October 5th. Unless you like intros and thank yous, go to about 5:00 on the video. Watch the candidate portions from the beginning, and you'll see in Grisham's opening statement he pulls out the mailer in question--essentially a voter ID hack job designed to connect people's political preferences with their name and address, through the use of a code printed at the bottom.

But that's not how Grisham played it, apparently figuring that "my opponent is playing dirty with a poll" will just sound whiny. Grisham instead noted the question on the flier asking the most important issues to the respondent, and declared that anybody who doesn't already know what's most important to district voters with 15 days left until ballots, shouldn't even be running. Grisham made no specific allegations against Cameron and the survey, but he clearly treated it as obviously Cameronian in origin, and turned the trick against him.

I don't really think Cameron catches on at first, because an entire question goes by without comment. And then in response on the 2nd question, he begins by saying:
I don't know where this piece came from, it's not my piece--anyone can put out a piece, so I wanna clarify that."
He doesn't wave the survey Grisham brought, or specifically reference it in any way, but there's no other piece to discuss that isn't a non-sequitur. Cameron was clearly denying his involvement with a piece that Grisham had portrayed as a tool of the foolish and out-of-touch.

But by today, it appears that what Cameron meant was, "Please I hope to GOD we didn't have anything to do with that." And that's the best case scenario--that he doesn't actually see or approve some of his ads, and simply didn't recognize it. Talk about out of touch, in that case--this is just a small statehouse race flying under the media radar, and he can't even see what his polling company is going to send out on his behalf? Is he that busy? Is Rebecca Tweed's voicemail full for him alla time too?

The other, more sinister alternative is that Cameron developed a case of TV-camera Alzheimer's and passed a BS denial off on the crowd, hoping no one would check. Because really, I'm not ready to make Kevin Cameron out to be a dope. If he's spending good money--thousands--to have them do polling and survey services for them, he's no dummy; he should know what's going out on his dime.

Cameron referred me to Tweed for an explanation of the charges on the C&E. I asked how I could contact her, since her voice mail was full. He said eventually she'll answer her mail and then I can leave a message. Wow, great, thanks! I wonder if he'd figure out a way for me to get in touch with Becca if I were from the S-J? I'm certainly going to pass this on to them, and you can help the effort by contacting City Editor Don Currie about it, or the newsroom if you wish.

As I said earlier, challenger Grisham almost sounded as if he was waiting for my call. He played his flier jujitsu move--the source of which he already knew had to have been Cameron, since all the other Republicans in the area had bankrolled the same piece for their districts--with cool deflection. But he very much meant to imply that Cameron doesn't know his district, and is paying for it, saying "you can't deny what you hear at the door." If there's a more fitting epigram for practitioners of true retail campaigning, I'm not sure what it is. Upon opening the door, the first question from the person answering it has invariably been "are you the incumbent?" With a laugh, Grisham says he explains that he's the challenger and the hand goes out, the new supporter saying "Then you're my guy."

What's the impact of Cameron putting this kind of stuff out into the field? Grisham thinks that Cameron's behavior means his own campaign is going pretty well. Calling the process a waste of time, he said nobody would undertake it if they thought they were doing well. I think the truth is a little murkier--microtargeting individual voters once you know their issue preferences is a key Republican strategy, and this can simply be a pre-GOTV information cull, whereupon they will launch the real direct mail attacks. If things are getting truly as dire as they appear for Republicans in several districts (based on anecdotal evidence I'm getting from around the state), there's no doubt those attacks will come.

So Grisham had better be ready. But as a former Republican himself until the eve of the Republican Revolution that began the 12 year reign of error, he probably knows what's coming, because he knows what they're capable of when cornered. Cameron just got cornered, and if he's not careful he's gonna get his...well, tell him, Mitchell!