Missouri candidates divided on use of 'robo' calls
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Missouri candidates divided on use of 'robo' calls

Date: September 21, 2010
By: Audrey Moon
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Candidates vying for two of Missouri's statewide offices are divided on whether to use the automated telephone calls to push their campaign messages into the homes of Missouri voters.

U.S. Senate candidate Robin Carnahan and incumbent state Auditor Susan Montee, both Democrats, said their campaigns will not use the automated messages. 

A spokesperson for Tom Schweich, the Republican running against Montee, said he will use a "limited" number of robo calls. 

Spokespeople for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Blunt refused multiple requests to interview Blunt and did not return phone calls asking about the candidate's position.

The calls can reach thousands of Missouri homes in a short period of time and are an inexpensive marketing tool for candidates.  They are exempt from state and national no-call laws and have few restrictions.  Individuals or entities must identify themselves at the beginning of the message and a phone number or address must be provided sometime during the call.

A statement from Schweich's campaign manager, Matt Beckman, said, "With regard to robo calls we plan to use them in a limited fashion, recognizing they can be a nuisance.  It falls to the campaign to use auto calls in a judicious and responsible manner.  It is important for our campaign to strike a balance to make a positive impact without annoying supporters." 

His opponent, current state auditor Susan Montee, says she is not going to robo call.  Montee calls them an "interesting phenomenon" and pledges not to use them.

"I didn't do them last time and I'm not a believer in robo calls," said Montee.  "I don't think you convince somebody by having a recorded message."

On the Senate side is Roy Blunt and Robin Carnahan battling for the seat. 

After multiple attempts to reach Blunt or anyone from his campaign, no one could be reached for comment.

His opponent, Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, made herself available for comment.

Concerning her personal campaign, Carnahan pledged not to use robo calls.

"I can't control everything everybody does, but I can control my campaign and I don't anticipate doing any of those (robo calls)."

She did caution that she could not control what other organizations did.

"There are an awful lot of groups out there doing things in this election cycle.  You see them on television, you see them on the radio, and you are probably going to be hearing them at home as well," said Carnahan.

The calls often cost 1 or 2 cents per minute, a huge contrast compared to the million of dollars campaigns spend on commercial advertisements for print, TV and radio each election. 

"The cost is so inexpensive that candidates simply assume that reaching a great number of people with the touch of a button is beneficial," said Michael Carter, candidate for the 2008 Lt. Gov. election.

Carter acknowledges his campaign made millions of political robo calls prior to the 2008 election, but gave people the opportunity to remove their name from a call list simply by going to his Web site.

"I knew I was going to make several million phone calls.  This offered an interactive way for voters to say, 'hey, leave me alone'," Carter said.  "People seemed to appreciate it even if it required some action on their part." 

Although robo calls have a negative reputation, Carter says that he experienced negative views from only a small contingent of people and that many people appreciate the quick snippets of information.

Another state official to refuse the use of robo call has been Sen. Carl Vogel, R-Jefferson City.  Vogel used phone banks in his 2002 election, but refrained from using them for his re-election in 2006.

"I actually think he won by a bigger percentage," said Bubs Hohulin, personal assistant to Vogel.

Hohulin also said that the senator decided not to use robo calls because if he didn't like getting them, he didn't think anyone else would either.

"He didn't like receiving the calls any better than anyone else," said Hohulin.  "He decided he was just not going to use them."

Ironically, the GOP candidate to succeed Vogel, Mike Kehoe, made extensive use of robo calls during the August campaign.


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