On Twitter, “Angus King” muses about how Eliot Cutler needs to lay off the whoopie pies, describes a Republican senator from New Hampshire as a “yummy little morsel” and says Brad Pitt should play the younger version of himself in “AngusBall: The Movie.”
Those aren’t tweets from the real Angus King, the independent former governor who’s now running for the U.S. Senate. You’ll find them under the Twitter handle King_Angus.
The anonymous holder of the Twitter account mocks King as self-absorbed, self-important and sometimes out of touch. The fake King likes to remind followers about the leadership classes he teaches at Bowdoin and Bates colleges. He sees laptops as the answer to a good number of political questions.
“What do you mean the time changed?” he tweeted about daylight-saving time on Monday. “No one asked me. The time is my time, and it’s 8 am till @King_Angus says otherwise.”
Social media didn’t exist when the real King last ran for public office, in 1998. King, who announced his Senate candidacy March 5 in the wake of Sen. Olympia Snowe’s unexpected announcement that she will not seek re-election, acknowledged in an interview with The Portland Press Herald last week that the Internet has become a huge factor since then.
“Already … some bozo set up a Twitter feed purporting to be me – Angus King – with my picture, with all these crappy twitters. I mean, what kind of world is this?” King said.
It’s not clear who the “bozo” is. King_Angus declined a request for an interview sent through a Twitter direct message.
Nonetheless, King_Angus has left some clues. The user of the account sometimes posts with a BlackBerry, the favored smartphone of government types. King_Angus started tweeting around the time that Twitter accounts for a fake Cutler and a fake U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree appeared.
The campaign’s official website – www.angus2012.com – will be up within a week, said Crystal Canney, King’s communications director. She said the campaign will also have a Facebook page and a Twitter account soon.
As for the fakes, Canney said the campaign will continue to focus on the issues that are important to Maine.
“This is part of the negative advertising campaign that we don’t agree with and certainly will not engage in,” she said.
King’s first gubernatorial campaign, in 1994, didn’t have a website, said Dennis Bailey, who was King’s communications director for both campaigns and for six of King’s eight years as governor.
Bailey said there were nights when he could not reach King at his home because King was using dial-up Internet access to talk about, say, education policy with teachers, in online chat rooms.
“All this (social media) is new to him, very new to him,” Bailey said. “There’s no reason for him to get upset by it. Every candidate is going to face this kind of stuff.”
King will find that the political world has become more chaotic, with more possibilities for mischief, since the cost of causing chaos has dropped considerably, said Darrell West, director of the Brookings Institution’s Center for Technology Innovation.
West said fake tweets could cause real problems for King. Nine years after he left office, a large portion of the electorate hasn’t seen him in a public position, so fake information could stick, West said.
But Robert Klotz, a political scientist at the University of Southern Maine, said any impact on King’s campaign would be minimal because it’s clearly parody.
Klotz said the best way for King to counter any attacks is to make clear what his official Twitter account is.
“It’s not King_Angus. That’s the one indication that they give that it’s probably not the real thing – in addition to all the messages,” he said.
When asked on Tuesday, a few people who seemed like possible King_Angus suspects denied any involvement.
Tom Connolly, a Portland-based defense lawyer who was the Democratic candidate for governor in 1998, has shown a penchant for political mischief, from his leak about George W. Bush’s 1976 drunken-driving arrest to his Osama bin Laden impersonation to protest a proposed government spending cap.
On Tuesday, Connolly recalled how he brought a mannequin to stand in for King at a debate. But he said he isn’t behind the Twitter account.
“I would sign my name,” he said. “If I were going to hit him, I would hit him straight ahead.”
Crash Barry, a writer who covered King for eight years as a journalist, has publicized the fact that he has purchased the domain names AngusforSenate.com and AngusKingforSenate.com.
Barry said he plans to use the sites to “shed a little sunshine” on the candidate. He said he would not hide behind an alias on the Internet and didn’t start the Twitter account.
“I’m not funny at all like that. I’m not a comedian,” he said.
Dan Demeritt, a former spokesman for Gov. Paul LePage who follows King_Angus, said he doesn’t have the right temperament.
“I don’t have the guts to do it. I’d get caught,” he said. “I’m a very passive-aggressive tweeter. I write tweets sometimes I don’t end up ever sending.”
Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at: [email protected]