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Race-baiting robocall targets voters in North Andover legislative race

State Representative Tram Nguyen
State Representative Tram NguyenPat Greenhouse/File 2018

Massachusetts Democratic officials say a race-baiting robocall is targeting voters in the North Andover legislative district where a Vietnamese-American woman unseated the man who now leads the Massachusetts Republican Party.

The recorded call purports to promote state Representative Tram Nguyen, an Andover Democrat who as a newcomer defeated four-term Representative James Lyons in 2018. The caller says white people will soon be the minority, and “less white people mean less racism.”

“We need less white people in positions of power so please vote for candidate Tram Nguyen,” the caller says, mangling the pronunciation of her name. (As she said in her first campaign, it’s pronounced, “Win.”)

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“It’s very us-against-them. It’s very racist," said Nguyen. She’s the first person of color to represent the 18th Essex District — which includes parts of Andover, Boxford, North Andover, and Tewksbury — but, she said, she represents everyone in the district.

“I’ve been working hard to bring the community together,” she said.

It’s unclear how many voters received the calls, but Democratic Party officials said they received three complaints and two copies of the same recording.

One North Andover voter who received the call said he forwarded it to the campaign, because he was furious on Nguyen’s behalf.

“I was outraged, but it’s hysterical how bad a call it was," said Tim McEachern. “He mispronounced the candidate’s name that he supposedly represented. He called it the Massachusetts ‘Democrat’ party. And the lies that they made up are so over the top.”

The caller also listed positions he said Nguyen supports, which she does not.

He claimed she would defund the police. (She supports police reform). He said she promotes free college for students of color. (She supports affordable college for all.) And he claimed she supports “making white Americans pay tax reparations.” Nguyen said she does not support that, has not campaigned on reparations, a federal issue, and she noted that her district is more than 90 percent white.

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She does, however, believe systemic racism exists, and what she has been advocating are “equality and freedom for all,” she said.

“These are basic tenets of American democracy,” she said.

Nguyen called the robocall a deceitful and divisive tactic and asked her opponent and the Massachusetts Republican Party to denounce it.

Her Republican challenger, Jeffrey P. DuFour, a first-time candidate from Tewksbury, disavowed any knowledge of the call and suggested it would hurt his campaign.

“Not only did this not come from my campaign or anyone associated, but it appears to be a dirty trick to hurt my campaign,” DuFour said in a text message, after hearing the call.

“I would fully support an investigation,” he added.

Lyons acknowledged that he can play hardball but said he had nothing to do with the calls.

“If I’m going to hit you,” Lyons said in an interview, "I’ll let you know it’s me.”

He, too, expressed bafflement at the content of the call, saying: “This is someone representing themselves as the Democratic Party? That’s somebody who’s lying. That’s not what the Democratic Party would do.”

The Massachusetts Democratic Party Thursday filed complaints with the US attorney’s office, the FBI, and the Federal Communications Commission.

“The scurrilous, racist robocall messages did not originate with the Massachusetts Democratic Party, and they were obviously calculated to confuse and deceive voters,” a lawyer for the party wrote.

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“Whoever is behind this is attempting to divide this district on racial lines,” said Gus Bickford, Massachusetts Democratic Party Chair.

Nguyen became a favorite of abortion rights groups and progressives when she challenged and defeated Lyons, the Legislature’s foremost abortion opponent, who had served four terms in the Legislature. Lyons went on to win the chairmanship of the Massachusetts Republican Party though Governor Charlie Baker backed a different candidate. Under Lyons’s leadership, the party has grown more vocally conservative and championed the leadership of the president, who is unpopular in Massachusetts.

In recent days, Baker has admonished President Trump for suggesting he might not cede power if he loses the election. The web page of the MassGOP, conversely, is featuring a giant photo of Trump with a “Make America Great Again” logo.


Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at Stephanie.Ebbert@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @StephanieEbbert.