Anti-Otten Shenanigans Prompt Response

Something very strange has been going on for the past week or two.  A short time ago I was alerted to a new Twitter account – known as Hard Knox – which was engaging in some odd activity.  Namely, it was re-tweeting a number of Bruce Poliquin’s official tweets, as well as posting several pro-Poliquin comments and links.  The campaign says it has no idea who this person is, and is not (to their knowledge) a member of the campaign or a volunteer.

Today we came across a YouTube account from this very same “Hard Knox” persona, because it had uploaded a rather aggressive anti-Otten video, attacking him for running American Ski Company into the ground.

The video:

Immediately, the Poliquin campaign, seeking to distance itself from the perception that they were behind this ad, issued the following statement:

Brunswick Today, Bruce Poliquin, Candidate for Maine Governor, released the following statement regarding an online ad attacking Les Otten, one of Poliquin’s opponents in the gubernatorial race:

“In the strongest possible terms, I deplore the online advertisement singling out Les Otten. There is no place for this kind of attack ad in our race.

“I have personally spoken with the Les Otten campaign to express my strong disapproval. I hope the other candidates join me in publicly condemning the ad as a childish and unnecessary attack.”

Likewise, the person creating and disseminating the ad should realize that they are doing nothing more than breaking campaign finance laws. This race will be run above board. There is a time and place to answer questions about our pasts, but this is neither, concludes Poliquin.

Poliquin’s comment about breaking campaign finance laws is a subtle implication that a campaign was somehow behind this ad. By posting a video with no disclosure about who paid for it, campaign finance laws would have been broken.

This of course, makes the assumption that it is a professionally done ad. I remain unconvinced – mostly because I have the requisite skillset to make something like this, and I am by no means a professional video editor.

Whoever is actually behind this spent the last week or two attempting to paint themselves in pro-Poliquin terms. The reasons for this are plentiful:

  • To make it look like the Poliquin campaign is behind the ad, thus blackening his eye as a dirty, trench warfare style candidate
  • To force a release repudiating it from Poliquin – raising the profile of the video so more people will see it and know about it, making it more controversial
  • Or, most cynically, because it did come from someone inside the Poliquin camp who was trying an age old tactic to make something look like such an obvious fraud that no one would suspect that it is in fact the real source

To believe #3, you’d have to have an extremely low opinion of both Poliquin and his team, as well as a highly cynical view of politics.  Do not count me among anyone who believes that – I personally believe it was a mix of #1 and #2.

In any event, both the Twitter account and the YouTube account have both been disabled, merely an hour after Poliquin’s release.  I’m not sure how this happened, but my guess was that Otten’s team may have contacted both Twitter and YouTube to complain about possible campaign finance violations, prompting them to take down both accounts (though, it should be noted that the video is still up, even though the account is dark.  If it ever goes away, I have downloaded it.)

But this does bring up a larger narrative – namely what role the average shmuck with a computer and some minor video editing skills has to play in the first Maine gubernatorial election in the modern social media age (2006 really doesn’t count).  Videos like this will likely continue to crop up in the next several months from a variety of sources, and so long as they are not paid for by campaigns, they are fair game.

Will videos like this continue to make noise?  Will these things cause changes in public opinion about a candidate?  Is it appropriate to focus on this level of grass roots hit job tactics?

No way to really know at this point – we’ll have to find that out as time goes by.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, a Hampden native, is a Republican political operative. He serves as the Director of Digital Strategy for the Republican Governors Association, and has previously worked for Senator Susan Collins and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.