CONCORD, N.H.-- James Tobin, President Bush's New England campaign chairman, has stepped down after state Democrats accused him of involvement in the jamming of their telephone lines on Election Day 2002.
Tobin made the announcement yesterday in a statement that also called the allegations ''without merit."
''These allegations date back two years and have absolutely nothing to do with the present campaign," Tobin said. ''But to avoid any harm to the campaign from their underhanded tactics, I elected earlier this week to step down from my voluntary position with the campaign."
Democrats and Republicans fought in court this week over whether Democrats could question GOP officials, including Tobin, as part of a lawsuit about the illegal jamming. Democrats won a ruling Wednesday that cleared the way for the questioning, but depositions scheduled for Thursday and yesterday were called off after the Justice Department said it would seek to delay them.
The 2002 jamming consisted of computer-generated calls to get-out-the-vote phones run by Democrats and the nonpartisan Manchester firefighters' union. More than 800 hang-up calls tied up phones for about 1 hours.
Tobin was northeast political director in 2002 for the Republican Senatorial Committee, the party operation working to elect Republicans to the Senate. Among the races affected by the phone-jamming was the US Senate contest between Democratic Governor Jeanne Shaheen and US Representative John E. Sununu, a Republican. It was considered a cliffhanger, though Sununu ended up winning by about 20,000 votes.
In the summer, Chuck McGee, former executive director of the state GOP, pleaded guilty in US District Court to a conspiracy charge and admitted paying $15,600 to a Virginia telemarketing company that hired another business to make the calls. GOP consultant Allen Raymond, former president of GOP Marketplace in Alexandria, Va., also pleaded guilty.
At their plea hearings in US District Court, McGee and Raymond acknowledged speaking to an unidentified official with a national political organization about the jamming. Democrats have said they believe Tobin was the official and might have put McGee and Raymond together.
Tobin said he plans to fight the allegations and is confident he will win.
''It is disappointing, indeed, to see the opposition party manipulate the court system in a blatant effort to influence the election," he said.
State Democratic chairwoman Kathy Sullivan said Tobin should withdraw from politics, not just his post with the Bush campaign.
''While Mr. Tobin has stepped down from his voluntary position, I am extremely concerned," she said, ''because he has said nothing about his involvement in other political activities."
The Bush campaign directed calls to Tobin to the DCI Group, a political consulting firm in Washington, D.C. Tobin founded a communications and political consulting company in Bangor, Maine, before getting into GOP politics. Before his latest jobs, he served as national political director for publisher Steve Forbes's presidential campaign.