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The LGBTQ Victory Fund has denounced campaign tactics directed at gay Massachusetts congressional candidate Alex Morse, including digital ads from a third-party group and a push poll referencing recent allegations from the College Democrats of Massachusetts that Morse had pursued sexual relationships with gay college students.
Victory Fund slammed the “homophobic narrative” surrounding the attacks, saying they were “orchestrated political attacks meant to weaponize” Morse’s sexuality.
According to the Victory Fund, multiple residents in Massachusetts’ 1st Congressional District received phone calls from interviewers conducting a “push poll” in which respondents were asked if they would still support Morse if he had “sent sexually explicit emails to college-aged students.”
The number that the push poll originated from is an area code covering parts of Eastern and Central Massachusetts. It remains unclear who paid for the poll, although recipients have claimed that the caller was identified as a “Mister Poll.”
Morse was recently accused of engaging in inappropriate sexual behavior by pursuing consensual relationships with college-aged students by the College Democrats of UMass Amherst, which issued a letter disinviting him from future events, alleging that his behavior made some of the men he pursued “uncomfortable.”
That letter also claimed that Morse had ignored a “lopsided power dynamic” in pursuing such relationships, based on the presumption that students may have been intimidated by Morse’s position, either as Mayor of Holyoke, Massachusetts, or as an adjunct professor at UMass Amherst.
Morse has denied any wrongdoing and claimed that the allegations against him are “completely untrue.”
Suspicions surrounding the allegations against Morse began to multiply after The Intercept reported that some members of the UMass Amherst College Democrats had orchestrated a plan to entrap Morse by engaging with him on social media, in an effort to curry favor with incumbent U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, whom Morse is challenging in the Sept. 1 Democratic primary.
The Massachusetts Democratic Party has since promised an investigation into the claims made against Morse, although a spokeswoman admitted that the state party had referred members of the College Democrats to an attorney familiar to party leaders who volunteers as legal counsel.
That lawyer reportedly played a significant role in crafting the letter accusing Morse of wrongdoing, which was released by the College Democrats and published in the UMass-Amherst student newspaper.
In addition to reports of push-polling, A Case for Women, a Texas-based law firm specializing in class-action lawsuits representing female plaintiffs, ran a digital ad on Facebook from Aug. 12-16 soliciting information from people who had been in contact with Morse, reaching between 50,000 and 100,000 people in the district over the course of four days, according to reporting from The Intercept.
“We are so sick of predatory men. And our only recourse (other than avoiding them) is to speak up when they cross the line. If you were contacted by Mayor/Professor Alex Morse “in a manner widely understood by our generation to indicate intimacy,” please contact us right away,” the ad said, quoting verbatim from the College Democrats’ letter. Shortly after news of the ad broke, it was deactivated.
Both the push poll and the digital ads were denounced by the LGBTQ Victory Fund as “the latest in a series of orchestrated political attacks meant to weaponize” Morse’s sexuality and appeal to a “homophobic narrative” around the sex lives of LGBTQ people. But the organization, which seeks to get LGBTQ people elected to office, also called for the sources behind the poll and the ads to be disclosed.
“It is evident that those involved in this plot planned to unleash these homophobic forces and setup a campaign of slander as ballots hit mailboxes,” Sean Meloy, the senior political director for LGTBQ Victory Fund, said in a statement. “It is essential that voters in the Congressional District learn the source or sources of these attacks so they can make an informed decision about who they want as their next member of Congress.”
A spokeswoman for the Neal campaign denied any involvement with the attacks against Morse.
“We have no idea what Mayor Morse is talking about, but what is clear is the Mayor’s desperate attempt to change to focus away from his failed record as Mayor, but the voters won’t be fooled,” Neal spokeswoman Kate Norton said in a statement.
“Richie Neal has been a leader and a champion for the people in this district, consistently delivering on COVID-19 relief, access to healthcare, and equity and opportunity,” Norton said. “He’s fighting Donald Trump every day to protect working families everywhere.”
The campaign also forwarded several screenshots of two push polls attacking Neal that the campaign believes the Morse campaign is currently circulating. As with any “push poll,” the first few questions attack Neal on policy, in an effort to highlight Morse’s support for progressive initiatives, as well as on Neal’s alleged coziness with corporate interests, to see if any voters are swayed by that messaging.
But the first poll also delves deep on messaging surrounding the College Democrats’ accusations, with multiple questions citing the reporting from The Intercept report — including a claim that one of the students involved in publicizing the accusations against Morse said he hoped to curry favor with Neal in the hope of potentially gaining an internship — and implying that the Neal campaign is involved in the controversy.
The second poll contains similar questions to the first, including one that reads: “If you knew that Richie Neal’s campaign was spreading homophobic stories that have already been debunked about his opponent in a desperate bid to hold onto his seat, would you vote for Alex Morse or Richie Neal?”
The Morse campaign denied that it had engaged in any negative push-polling.
“In no way, shape or form are we involved,” the campaign said in a statement. “It’s disingenuous for the Neal campaign to make these baseless charges when the big corporations that have made Neal Wall Street’s favorite congressman have funded thousands of dollars in negative ads against Alex Morse. From the very beginning of our campaign, we have rejected these tactics and remain committed as ever to continuing our momentum in bringing power back to the people of MA-01.”
The Neal campaign, meanwhile, takes offense at the suggestion that it has played any role in the accusations against Morse, the plan to entrap him, or any push poll attempting to exploit the scandal for political gain.
The campaign also notes that Neal has a pro-LGBTQ voting record from his more than 30 years in Washington, and has been endorsed for re-election by the Human Rights Campaign and Equality PAC, the political action committee for the Congressional LGBTQ Equality Caucus.
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