Allegations of dirty tricks at the Ted Cruz campaign have put the spotlight on campaign manager Jeff Roe, particularly after the campaign was accused of spreading rumors on Iowa caucus night that rival Ben Carson was planning to drop out.
This isn’t the first time Roe’s been accused of shady campaign tactics – he faced similar accusations while working on a Missouri congressional race in 2010, though the Federal Election Commission ultimately put the blame on another individual for the episode.
Back then, in the final days of the contest for Missouri’s 7th congressional district, a fraudulent email claiming to be from Democratic congressional candidate Scott Eckersley was sent to news outlets saying he intended to suspend his campaign for personal reasons, according to The Joplin Globe.
At the time, Roe and his firm, Axiom Strategies, was doing consulting work for the campaign of Republican candidate Billy Long. Eckersley alleged that operatives for his opponent were responsible, and placed blame at Roe’s feet.
“You know this is dirty politics. This is Jeff Roe-style management. That’s who Billy’s retained. That’s who he writes the big checks to,” Eckersley told KTTS.
Roe denied any involvement at the time in such underhanded tactics. And when the FEC investigated, they determined in 2012 that another political consultant named Patrick Binning was “solely responsible” for the fake press release and was not an “agent or employee” for any federal candidate.
Eckersley, though, told KSMU radio at the time that he was disappointed the investigation did not subpoena phone records, suggesting there might still be a connection to the campaign.
“I’d be hard pressed to see that there wasn’t some calculation, some connection going on here between Patrick Binning and Long’s campaign,” Eckersley was quoted as saying.
Fast-forward to 2016, and the Cruz campaign is facing roughly the same accusations. Asked if the tactics in Iowa bear Roe’s fingerprints, Carson spokesman Jason Osborne, said: "Absolutely. He runs the show over there and they take their direction from him."
But the Cruz campaign insists what happened in Iowa was just a mix-up.
Cruz, who has apologized, says campaign representatives mistakenly forwarded a CNN report on Carson’s plans to return to Florida. (Still, some campaign representatives apparently took the CNN report a step further, suggesting he was not just returning to Florida but suspending his campaign.)
Requests by FoxNews.com to speak directly with Roe were not granted, but Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier rejected any suggestion of impropriety, sticking by the CNN story explanation.
“We passed along an accurate story [reported by CNN] to campaign staff and volunteers. Mr. Carson did return to Florida, which was an unusual step. It was breaking news that night,” she added.
Roe, who worked for Cruz’s 2012 Senate primary opponent David Dewhurst, is well-known for hardball politics and has embraced the reputation of being a “bad boy” of campaign politics.
When asked whether Roe’s history raised questions over whether the Iowa incident was truly an innocent mistake, Frazier said the past allegations in Missouri were proven false and there is no pattern.
She also sent FoxNews.com a news report about former Democratic candidate Eckersley pleading guilty in 2015 to charges he improperly disposed of a business competitor’s brochures.
Carson campaign staffers, however, argue that the rumors about the retired neurosurgeon leaving the race started before the CNN story.
“What we saw in the week leading up to the caucus were rumors being circulated that Ben was going to be dropping out after Iowa. Someone was contacting voters making the case to vote for Cruz. It all culminated in that evening [of the caucus] in calls, voicemails and text alerts spreading a narrative that was false,” said Ryan Rhodes, the Carson campaign’s Iowa state director.
Days after the Iowa caucus, Breitbart News released voicemails that indicated Cruz campaign staff had contacted precinct captains instructing them to inform voters Carson was suspending his campaign and to “not waste” a vote for the neurosurgeon.
Rhodes did not assert the campaign itself was engineering the calls, but that Cruz backers or affiliated groups were responsible.
Osborne said reporters embedded with the campaign were well aware of Carson’s post-Iowa plans. He further noted that CNN never claimed Carson was dropping out.
In the end, Cruz won the Iowa caucuses. Donald Trump has openly challenged the results, claiming Cruz “stole” the election.
Suspicions of underhanded tactics re-emerged this week in the days leading up to Saturday’s South Carolina primary.
According to The Washington Post, Palmetto State voters have received automated push polls from Remington Research, a consulting firm started by Roe.
Chris Wilson, Cruz’s director of research, denied the campaign was behind the calls and has suggested that anyone was capable of making the calls as Remington Research in order “to screw with reporters and make Jeff look like he’s doing something.”
A fake Facebook page also turned up claiming South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy, an affirmed supporter of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, planned to switch his support to Cruz.
Gowdy, who has appeared in television ads supporting Rubio, asserted the Texas senator’s campaign was lying about him and demanded Cruz repudiate the “dishonest and underhanded tactics.”
Cruz tweeted on Tuesday night that his campaign “had absolutely nothing to do with this fraudulent Facebook post” and stated that “kind of deception is deplorable and nothing like it would be tolerated by this campaign.”