California GOP gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman has already
shown she has the deepest pockets of any politician in America, with
moves like sending out 500,000 48-page policy "Megazines" statewide —
but here’s a first: did you hear about the voters who got personalized
robocalls from her before the June primary?
"Hi Douglas,” begins Whitman in the automated call received by
Watchdog’s Doug Heller on election day. "It’s Tuesday morning, and
I’m calling to personally ask for your vote." Listen to it here.
An astonished Heller, a decline-to-state voter, wrote us: "Did
she actually record hundreds of first names to make these personalized
calls? Is it a computer simulation of her voice? How much time did she
spend recording the names? How much does it cost?"
Sarah Pompei, spokeswoman for the Whitman campaign, said today that
personalized "robocalls" are indeed cutting edge in the political
campaign realm. "Our campaign used the technology during the primary to
have a more personal connection with voters in our get-out-the-vote
effort,” she said.
While she wouldn’t specify the cost, she said the resource was "very
And how did "Douglas" get the personal pitch? Whitman did record the
most popular names, her campaign said.
We talked to Ron Schneider, president of Washington-based
Premiere Political Campaigns LLC, an experienced shop in the "robocall"
business and someone who’s worked for candidates like 2008 Democratic
presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
He said that making recordings for such efforts
usually involves about 45 minutes. "She’s recording a bunch of names and
a bunch of sounds — and speech technology is making (the greeting)
up,” he said.
So does all this work?
"It can be effective, though I don’t have too many friends in
California who think Meg Whitman has time to call them,” he said. "I
think it’s much more effective on a local campaign, because you will
actually think John Smith took the time to call me."
"But candidates tend to like it, and that’s always a good selling
point,” especially one with Meg Whitman’s unlimited resources, he said.
"It doesn’t seem like it’s going to be Jerry Brown’s style, does it?"
Heller says it was interesting and a touch "creepy” to get a
personalized robocall, but adds it’s one more thing that shows Team Meg
has money — and lots of it. "It’s "Willie Wonka" politics..anything you
can dream of, you can buy,” he says.