John McCain has touted his campaign for its "openness, honesty and access — true democracy at work." Some local residents, however, say the method that McCain used to select participants for his town hall meeting here Thursday wasn't entirely as honest or upfront as promoted.
CityBeat has received complaints from people who got telephone calls as part of the screening process to be selected for the town hall meeting, held at Xavier University, that was designed for independent and Democratic voters who are undecided in the presidential contest.
Although McCain’s campaign said it used an independent direct marketing firm, Phoenix-based Direct Response Group, to make the calls, some clever recipients discovered that the callers concealed a few pertinent facts. Residents who dialed the number back that appeared on their caller ID screens reached an office for Citizens for McCain, a political group created by Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), the disgruntled former Democrat who is stumping for McCain.
One recipient, Mark Cruise of College Hill, said he specifically asked the person calling him if she was connected to the McCain campaign. The caller told Cruise she wasn’t part of the campaign and belonged to an independent organization. When Cruise dialed the number back, he was greeted with, “Hello, this is Citizens for McCain.”
“I don’t have a problem with anyone campaigning but it kind of raised an eyebrow because they said they were an independent group,” said Cruise, a registered Democrat. “It’s hard to imagine why they would say that unless they want to cut down on the number of hang-ups.”
McCain has promoted his town hall meetings as a free-flowing exchange of ideas and questions, but the Lieberman group’s involvement undermines their credibility. Here’s how Lieberman himself described the group in an e-mail earlier this month: “Citizens for McCain is an organization within the McCain campaign for people who put country before political party and support the candidate for president who has a proven record of bipartisanship.”
Of course, Direct Response Group could just be using the campaign’s office space to do its work but, as a hired contractor, the types of questions asked and who ultimately is selected to attend is likely closely controlled by McCain’s campaign — hardly the unbiased affair as it’s been publicized.
In fact, the two town hall sessions held before Cincinnati’s — in New York and St. Paul, Minn. — have been met with skepticism.
In an interview with USA Today, Amy Walter, editor of a Web site that provides a daily political briefing, said an ideal town hall should have strong supporters, strong opponents and everyone in-between.
For his part, Cruise said he just wants more openness.
“It made me a little wary,” he said. “You don’t have to be shady about it. Just tell me who you’re calling for.”
— Kevin Osborne