Ian Murphy, the Buffalo, NY blogger who first made national headlines when he posed as conservative money man David Koch in a taped phone conversation with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), has struck again.
This time, the target was much closer to home: The special election being held in New York’s 26th Congressional District, which has become a focal point for the national battle over the House Republican plan to phase out Medicare in favor of a voucher system.
As voters prepared to go to the polls, Murphy — who, incidentally, is running as the Green Party candidate — got a haircut, a black dye-job and a pair of thick-rimmed glasses. Then he headed over to a phone bank for Republican candidate Jane Corwin and started making calls.
His secret identity? “Steve Smith-an underemployed pet psychic and [western New York] repat most recently from Oakland, CA.”
Murphy slipped in undetected and captured a portrait of a GOP phone bank gone awry, with Corwin desperately trying to find someway to makeup for the momentum they lost thanks to the Republican Medicare proposal and local eccentric/rich man Jack Davis, who’s running on the Tea Party line.
Murphy described the experience on the Buffalo Beast, the site he helped make famous with his Koch calls:
I actually spoke with roughly 100 people, and the majority of them were extremely upset with the harassment by phone. Unless they immediately relented and said they were voting for Jane, their name went back into the system, and we’d call them until their spirits were thoroughly crushed. It’s an odd campaigning strategy — one that is no doubt backfiring.
“Most were actually local,” Murphy told TPM when asked about the people he shared the phone bank with. He said they ranged from those who “really, really liked [Corwin] for some insane reason” and others who seemed to be going through lines by rote.
At this point, with the end of the election less than 24 hours away, Corwin needs all the help she can get. Polls show her trailing Democratic candidate Kathy Hochul, despite the district’s reliable Republican bent.
Murphy described how a Corwin phone bank supervisor named Bob dealt with the Medicare question, which is plaguing Corwin and could be a significant part of her undoing:
“Don’t lie. Tell them that, if they’re 55 or over, Jane’s plan won’t change their Medicare. And if they’re 54 or under tell them that Jane’s plan will…um…make things…better.” He walks away.
“But, Bob?” I call after him. “Some of these people are younger and they think Medicare is a problem…should I tell them that Jane’s plan will end Medicare?”
“Yeah, if it helps,” he says, running back to his desk.
As for the race itself, Murphy said it’s OK to believe the hype — to a point.
“It’s definitely going to be a vote cast against Paul Ryan and the kind of draconian Republican agenda we’ve seen,” he said. “But in a way, it’s mostly Jack Davis that is making this thing close.”
He said he’s not sure if he would call the result “a true bellwether” for 2012, considering the influence of Davis.
Murphy was supposed to be the stunt candidate, running on the hype from his call to Scott Walker and pushing forward with book and documentary film projects that have come with his national fame. Then the race got close, and the hoard descended: millions in ads from outside groups and the national parties.
Suddenly, Murphy said, his candidacy didn’t seem so weird.
“I really thought I’d have some wacky antics that would stand out,” he said. “But I’m really the amateur joke candidate. I think Corwin’s been on par with Sacha Baron Cohen in this election.”
Read Murphy’s full description of his day as Steve Smith here.