Virginia Democrats are allegedly misrepresenting the positions held by Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli in an attempt to depress conservative turnout and using peer pressure to boost voter turnout among Democratic constituencies in the final days of that state’s gubernatorial race.
Del. Scott Lingamfelter, a Republican, said he received a robo-call on Sunday evening claiming that Cuccinelli supports the Affordable Care Act and taxpayer financing for abortions.
Cuccinelli vehemently opposes Obamacare, as the law is commonly known. He was the first state attorney general to challenge the law in court. He is also strongly opposed to abortion.
The recording said the Democratic Party of Virginia (DPVA) paid for it, Lingamfelter wrote in a post on his Facebook page.
"They are shameless in their lies," he wrote. "I guess they are trying to suppress GOP voters" in the governor’s race.
Lingamfelter did not respond to additional questions about the call. The Democratic Party of Virginia also did not respond to attempts to confirm its role in the robo-call campaign.
The robo-calls and other questionable campaign tactics came days before voters go to the polls in what has been a bruising and negative gubernatorial campaign.
The McAuliffe campaign has focused intently on turnout, as Virginia’s off-year gubernatorial elections tend to see fewer voters.
"The electorate in Virginia’s off-off year gubernatorial elections has usually been whiter, older, and more conservative," explained Geoff Skelley of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. "For the McAuliffe campaign, its winning formula has long been a question of turnout."
Republicans see robo-calls as part of a concerted attempt to reduce the number of Republicans who show up to the polls on Tuesday.
"The Democrats are actively trying to keep Republicans from turning out," said Republican Party of Virginia chairman Pat Mullins in a statement to the Washington Free Beacon on the DPVA’s robocall campaign.
"The Democrats have shown they'll do anything to win. This is just one more example," Mullins wrote. "It's a despicable attempt at voter suppression. It's shameless, it's dishonest, and it's utterly unsurprising."
The robocalls followed reports from registered Virginia voters of campaign mailers designed to "guilt-trip" them into showing up at the polls.
One of those mailers, sent by the DPVA, included a "chart that shows your household’s public voting record in past elections." The party said it would "mail you an updated chart after the election that will show whether or not you voted."
The mailer’s wording closely resembles a sample letter used in a study by Yale University political scientists Alan Gerber and Donald Green on the use of social pressure by political campaigns to get out the vote.
Gerber and Green found that letters similar in wording to the DPVA’s could increase voter turnout by nearly five percent.
The individual who received that mailer, and provided a copy to the Free Beacon, called himself a "solid Democrat," but said he was turned off by its heavy-handedness.
"The letter was just beyond negative, and was very big brother-esque," the voter explained. He said he does not like either Virginia gubernatorial candidate.
"If you’re sending that out and I’ve already got a negative opinion, it’s going to reinforce my negative opinion," he said.
Skelley said such mailers could be an effective way to boost turnout in areas that tend to vote Democratic.
"It is unsurprising that Democrats are trying to do whatever they can to get people they believe voted for Obama in 2012 to turn out to vote in 2013," Skelley said. He added that it would probably have a larger effect on down-ballot races than the gubernatorial contest.
Third-party groups supporting Virginia Democrats are also looking to boost turnout through similar tactics.
The League of Conservation Voters sent its own "social pressure" mailer last week, though it took a more positive tone than the DPVA’s.
Voting records, LCV wrote, "are public information." The mailer thanked its recipient, an Arlington, Va., native who provided a copy to the Free Beacon, for voting in the 2012 election, and encouraged him to "continue your record of exercising your civic duty by voting in the important election" on Tuesday.
References to "civic duty" also mirror a sample letter used in the Gerber study on social pressure, which showed that tactic increased turnout by nearly two percent.
"We look forward to thanking you after the election for voting and making our democracy work."
Published under: Terry McAuliffe