Sunday, February 01, 2004

Counter-Intimidation

How sick are they that Republican intimidation tactics have become so common and so effective that Democrats employ campaign workers to fight them?

Voter registration and identification weren't the only mobilization programs that occupied the Republicans in 2003, however. They were involved in a major voter-intimidation program as well. The battleground on which they tested their latest tactics was the Philadelphia mayor's race, where the campaign of the Republican challenger, Sam Katz, grew extremely nervous at the success the Democrats had had at registering minority voters. The Republican response was an attempt to scare black and Hispanic voters away from the polls -- not a new trick in the Republican playbook by any means, but one that the DNC had better be studying and preparing to confront this November.
To begin, according to Democratic consultant Tom Lindenfeld, who ran the counter-intimidation program for the campaign of Democrat John Street, the Republicans assembled a fleet of 300 cars driven by men with clipboards bearing insignias or decals resembling those of such federal agencies as Drug Enforcement Agency and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Thus arrayed, says Lindenfeld, these pseudo-cops spent election day cruising Philadelphia's African American neighborhoods and asking prospective voters to show them some identification -- an age-old method of voter intimidation. "What occurred in Philadelphia was much more expansive and expensive than anything I'd seen before, and I'd seen a lot," says Lindenfeld, who ran similar programs for the campaigns of Harvey Gantt in North Carolina and other prominent Democrats. In a post-election poll of 1,000 black voters, 7 percent of them said they had encountered these efforts (this being Philadelphia, there were allegations of violence and intimidation against Street supporters as well). Lindenfeld employed 800 people to confront the GOP's faux-agents at polling places.
Lindenfeld's operatives found Republican volunteers from as far away as Missouri, and attorneys from the District of Columbia were discouraging Philadelphia voters from exercising their franchise. That doesn't make the effort an official activity of the RNC, of course. But it does mean that a broad network of Republicans are still honing their techniques for manipulating an election.