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Progressive Group Slams Freedom's Watch in Robo-Calls

Blue America, a political action committee composed of some of the most prominent progressive bloggers nationwide, is launching automated phone calls into a handful of congressional districts today to defend Democrats from attacks by the conservative group Freedom's Watch.

The calls, which will go into the districts of Reps. Chris Murphy (Conn.) and Steve Kagen (Wisc.) as well as open seat House races in New Jersey's 3rd and 7th district and statewide in Maine where Rep. Tom Allen is challenging Republican Sen. Susan Collins, take direct aim at planned calls by Freedom's Watch, announced last week, targeting a handful of Democratic incumbents and challengers over the rising cost of gas.

"We don't want Karl Rove to pick off the good progressives who are already running in 2008, so we're putting robocalls into their districts to counter the deceptive ones created by Freedom's Watch," explained Jane Hamsher, the founder of Firedoglake and a member of Blue America.

John Amato, founder of Crooks and Liars, added: "[Freedom's Watch is] blaming Democrats for the outrageous gas prices we now see all across America, ... which is actually the product of almost eight years of Republican control."

Sources familiar with Blue America would not discuss exact dollar amounts being spent on the ads but insisted it was in the tens of thousands of dollars. At the end of May, the group reported having raised $343,000 so far this year with $294,000 in the bank. Blue America is also spending cash on behalf of Georgia state Sen. Regina Thomas (D) who is running a primary challenge against Rep. John Barrow (D) in the 12th district today.

The recorded voice on the calls is that of Mike Farrell aka Dr. B.J. Hunnicutt from the hit television series "M*A*S*H".

"Freedom's Watch is actually a group of Bush supporters desperate to keep your eye off the Iraq war and the saber-rattling in Iran," says Farrell. He adds that the group is "fronting for Karl Rove and billionaires" trying to deceive voters.

(The link between Rove, former deputy White House chief of staff and lead political strategist for President George W. Bush, comes from a terrific story (subscribers only) written by National Journal's Peter Stone in which he reports: "Rove has been busy pitching in by giving informal advice to McCain's team and spending a considerable amount of time as an outside adviser to Freedom's Watch, the conservative political group that is expected to spend tens of millions of dollars to help elect House GOP candidates." Rove did not return an email seeking comment.)

At the ad's conclusion, Farrell insists that "electing Democrats like [New Jersey Assemblywoman] Linda Stender is their worst nightmare" and adds: "Let's keep them up at night for a change."

Ed Patru, a spokesman for Freedom's Watch, pronounced himself unconcerned with the robo-calls attacking his group. "Iraq is a success story -- even Barack Obama has days when he admits that," said Patru. "In terms of the calls, the public couldn't care less if Madonna and A-Rod were paying for our calls -- they just want Democrats in Congress to stop twiddling their thumbs while gas prices go through the roof."

All five places where the Blue America calls are being placed are expected to be central battlegrounds this fall. In New Jersey, Stender is running for the second time in as many cycles in the north central 7th district while Democratic state Sen. John Adler is a strong favorite in the south central 3rd district. Both Murphy and Kagen won upsets in 2006 and are expected to be targeted in the fall. Allen, who has held Maine's 1st district since 1996, is vacating the seat for an uphill challenge against the popular Collins.

It remains to be seen whether Blue America can put together the financial firepower that would allow it to compete with Freedom's Watch in congressional districts around the country over the next four months. (Freedom's Watch is a 501(c)(4) organization and, as such, can accept donations of unlimited amounts and is not required to disclose them publicly.)

National Democrats have long warned that it is Freedom's Watch, not the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee, that poses the greatest threat to maximizing their gains at the ballot box this fall.

Is Blue America's robo-call campaign the start of something bigger or just a lone voice in the wilderness?

By Chris Cillizza  |  July 15, 2008; 11:04 AM ET
Categories:  House  
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