Last night's mayoral forum started with a bang.
John Dickert accused Bob Turner's campaign of spreading lies with robo-calls about the campaign. Dickert asked Turner to stop the "push polls." Turner said he didn't know about the calls and asked the campaign to stop them, if they're happening.
But let's unravel this a bit.
1. Turner's campaign didn't make the calls. The Greater Wisconsin Committee is running the robo-calls.
2. We haven't heard the calls, but there are suggestions that both candidates are hit during the call. We'll withold judgment until someone comes forward with a transcript or recording.
3. Here's the key, though. Even if the ads favor Turner, he can't stop them. A political campaign is not allowed to coordinate activities with a private group. That includes ordering a group to stop running ads.
4. This is why push polls are effective. Candidates can distance themselves from the tactic but still benefit from the message. That's politics today. Third-party groups can do whatever they want, and neither candidate can stop them.
5. So what's to make about the "push poll" accusations? Dickert attacking Turner at the forum Thursday night bordered on unfair. Dickert knows the rules, and he knows Turner can't work with the Greater Wisconsin Committee to start or stop the ads (that's against election rules). So calling on him to stop the ads is like asking Turner to stop commenters on RacinePost from attacking him. Turner can't control the ads.
6. I say "bordered on unfair," though, because it's hard to believe Turner or Dickert have no control over negative ads. If either was adament, they could stop a third-party group with public statements alone.
7. Regardless, it's just the latest chapter in the Turner-Dickert feud. Many will recall in 2002 it was Turner's campaign accusing Dickert of push polls.
8. So what does any of this have to do with the mayor's race? Hopefully nothing. But it could be the start of things getting a whole lot uglier ...
Note: We have a call to the Greater Wisconsin Committee to ask about the phone calls. If anyone has received a call, post what was said in the comments. If anyone happens to record the call, send it over!