Something funny seems to be going on in a Michigan congressional race. Either a Democratic candidate with national-party backing, challenging Republican incumbent Dan Benishek, has an impersonator with access to his cell phone, or his campaign is pressuring a local paper to edit his quotes. It’s very weird. Here’s what’s going on, all according to Mark Wilcox, managing editor of the paper in question, who spoke with NRO:
On Wednesday of last week, Jerry Cannon (the Democratic challenger) sat down for an interview with Garrett Neese, a reporter for Daily Mining Gazette, to discuss his congressional bid. Neese is the paper’s most experienced reporter, and has been writing there for ten years. He recorded the interview. Afterward, Cannon handed him his business card so he could touch base with any follow-up questions.
The next day, after listening to about 15 minutes of the audio recording of the interview, Neese called the cell-phone number listed on the card Cannon gave him to ask a follow-up question. The reporter wanted Cannon’s take on Obamacare, as well as the unemployment-insurance extension, which they hadn’t covered in the initial interview.
Details here are important, so bear with me: When the reporter called the number, the call was answered by a person whose voice sounded the same as Cannon’s. The reporter greeted this person as Mr. Cannon and mentioned the previous day’s interview. The person responded to that greeting, and the two chatted about Cannon’s stance on the Affordable Care Act. The person who answered the phone — remember, this is a person whose voice sounded exactly like Cannon’s, who answered the cell phone whose number was listed on a card Cannon personally gave the reporter, and who responded to “Mr. Cannon” — said this:
“I don’t like Obamacare. It’s been a disaster for me. I want to go back to the way it was before.”
Pretty blunt stuff, especially from a candidate with backing from the DCCC who, earlier that week, had said this: “We’ve been working on [health-care reform] for 100 years and a lot of these ideas started with the Republican party and there’s been fits and starts and stops about how to get this done and it’s finally put into place, and the worst thing that could be done is say ‘let’s throw it all out.”
At about noon on Thursday, the paper published a story on the interview that included the devastatingly anti-Obamacare quote.
Here’s where it gets weird: Between 1 and 2 p.m., the paper got a phone call from Cannon’s campaign. The campaign manager, Ted Dick, insisted that Cannon had not spoken with the reporter over the phone and that the phone in question was turned off when the reporter called.
The paper then took the story down, rather than just remove the disputed quote.
“Surgically removing quotes is not something that you want to do,” Wilcox tells NRO, explaining the paper’s decision.
On Friday, the paper put a story on its website including quotes from Cannon explaining a very different position on the Affordable Care Act than what was articulated over the phone. That story also includes this in its second paragraph: “Campaign manager Ted Dick said Cannon had not been the person speaking in the call, and that the phone with the number provided to the Gazette had been turned off during the time of the call.”
Here’s why this odd little situation is notable: Cannon isn’t some random upstart primary contender — he’s the Democrats’ presumptive nominee, and has strong support from the Democrat Congressional Campaign Committee. In fact, he’s one of their “Jumpstart candidates,” Democrats with tough but potentially winnable races against Republican incumbents. DCCC Chairman Steve Israel described these candidates as “standouts – women and men who have spent their careers solving problems and putting the middle class ahead of partisan ideology.”
So either a) Cannon’s campaign lied to a local paper about who answered an innocent phone call so that the paper would take down a highly problematic quote on a controversial issue, or b) there is a mysterious Cannon impersonator floating around northern Michigan, answering his cell phone and planting false quotes about him that would be politically damaging.
I called Cannon’s campaign to ask for their take on what happened, and campaign manager Ted Dick promised to call me back shortly. That hasn’t happened yet, but we’ll update this post if we get word from him.