A group headed by a close supporter of Senate President Russell Pearce launched a last-minute auto-dial phone call campaign to Mesa voters over the weekend urging them to “write-in” their own candidates on Tuesday, which some say is a not-so-subtle attempt to dissuade Hispanic voters from either showing up on Election Day or voting for challenger Jerry Lewis.
In the robo-call, a narrator with a Hispanic accent warns that since the candidates in the race are both Republicans, the suggested course of action for non-Republican voters is to write in another candidate.
“The only other candidate, Olivia Cortes, was forced to withdraw last month. You can protest this one-sided election by writing in your own candidate,” the call said.
What the call neglects to mention, however, is that Cortes is also a Republican and that “writing-in” somebody’s name on the ballot means the vote won’t be counted. There are no write-in candidates in the election, so any votes for anyone other than Pearce or Lewis will be wasted.
The effort was paid for by Safeguard Arizona’s Future, whose chairman, Ronald Ludders, is on the list of supporters in a campaign mailer sent out recently by Pearce’s campaign. Pearce also lists him among his “friends” on his website.
Ludders is a well-known Tea Party activist.
The Lewis campaign described the robo-call effort as a “dirty trick” by Pearce’s “cronies.”
John Giles, Lewis’s campaign spokesman, said it was made to sound like it came from Democrats.
“The speaker has an accent designed to mislead,” said Giles, who added the call clearly targeted Hispanic Democrats.
“This message assumes voters are ignorant,” he said.
But when pressed, Ludders insisted that the telephone call is an educational piece and its message is politically neutral. That is, it doesn’t advocate for any candidate.
“We are just telling people, here are your options. You can vote for one of two Republicans. You can vote for Cortes, if you wish, although she’s not running. Or if you wish, you can write in another candidate,” he said.
“If I wanted this to be anything other than an educational piece, I would have said, ‘Vote for Olivia Cortes’,” he added.
Ludders rejected any notion that the robo call is aimed to deduct votes from Lewis. He said it’s something that either campaign could complain about. It could also be read as something that is against Pearce, he said.
“I’m sure Russell Pearce would say: Why did you do this because this is playing into the hands of the Lewis people because they’re saying it’s a dirty trick? It is not a dirty trick. It is an educational piece,” he said.
He also admitted that if he were a voter District 18, he probably would vote for Pearce. But he said his personal choice shouldn’t be confused with his group’s position on the recall race, which is neutral.
The robo call went out to between 10,000 and 15,000 people — to Democrats, Republicans and independents alike, Ludders said.
Meanwhile, after attacking Lewis, the Pearce campaign is now calling on independent expenditure groups to “bring the rhetoric and personal attacks to an end.”
“In recent days, personal attacks against me and my opponent have reached a fevered pitch. This is a disservice to the voters in District 18. Out of respect for them, I ask that in the closing days of this campaign that both sides focus on the issues,” Pearce said in a statement sent out by his campaign manager, Chad Willems.
After a string of positive ads early in the race, Pearce’s campaign went negative, accusing Lewis, for example, of “stealing” from homeless kids.
Lewis has resisted directly attacking Pearce, though he has taken swipes at his opponent for accepting trips sponsored by the Fiesta Bowl.
Both candidates have been attacked or helped by independent expenditure groups.
Last week, Lewis sought to dissociate himself from those attack ads against Pearce.
“To the extent it’s being underhanded, please stop,” Lewis said, pleading for independent expenditure groups to stick to the facts and “do so in a civil way that expounds the substantiated facts, but don’t do it in the underhanded way that’s been done to me.”