Dirty Tricks Ratchet Up as Caucus Gets Closer

With only 45 days until the first votes are cast in the Iowa caucus, every candidate and campaign is looking for an edge, and clearly some folks are finding those edges in dirty tricks — nasty information, sometimes false, often spread anonymously.

It's a murky world and often tough to tell what's true, what's false and where any of it is coming from.

This weekend, conservative columnist Robert Novak reported that agents of Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., claimed her campaign has scandalous information about Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., but they have decided not to use it.

The Obama campaign quickly took the item and used it to tar Clinton as part of the proverbial problem.

"If the purpose of this shameless item was to daunt or discourage me or supporters of our campaign from challenging and changing the politics of Washington, it will fail," an Obama campaign statement said.

The Clinton campaign rejected the accuracy of the claims in Novak's story and added, "Voters should be concerned about the readiness of any Democrat inexperienced enough to fall for this."

Obama attacked Clinton for using old-school attack politics, nonetheless.

"I really value my reputation and my character and my family," Obama said Sunday in Marion, Iowa. "In the era of the blogosphere, we have seen what happened with John McCain in 2000, what happened with John Kerry in 2004. If you don't get on this stuff quickly, then it starts drifting around, and that is not something I am going to accept."

Obama said he would "take them [the Clinton campaign] at their word when they said that they weren't responsible for it," but "we are letting Democratic voters know, we are letting Republican operatives know, and we're letting other people know that we will respond swiftly and forcefully when there are untruths being floated out there."

Political Dirty Tricks Nothing New

Dirty tricks have been a part of American politics as far back as the mudslinging in the 1800 race between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.

More recently, voters in key early primary states have been getting mysterious push poll phone calls, which sound like polls at first but are intended to push negative information about candidates.

In Manchester, Iowa, Marcel Kielkucki said a push pollster called and began asking him questions about former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

"There were statements on Gov. Romney, and they all took a very negative tone," Kielkucki said. "And then there became a series of questions on Mormonism, and all those were very negative as well, and those just caught me off guard as well."

Kielkucki said among the mentions of Mormonism were pointed questions as to whether he knew that Mormons baptize people into their faith posthumously and have a history of discriminating against blacks.

Romney said, "The irony associated with attacking a person on their faith as we celebrate the founding of the nation that welcomes people of different faiths, is not lost on any American."

But who is behind those calls? No one is saying.

"I have no idea who's doing it, " GOP front-runner Rudy Giuliani said Sunday. "I guess nobody has any idea who's doing it. Whoever's doing it should stop it."

Calls placed to Democrats in Iowa seem to be targeting former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards

Laura Belin, a resident of Windsor Heights, Iowa, and supporter of Edwards, said a push pollster asked her, "What was the best reason not to vote for John Edwards?"

"Either he was too liberal to win a general election or he continued to campaign instead of staying home with his wife who has cancer, which I found offensive," Belin said.

The Internet is also rife with even more malicious and false information, such as bogus e-mails about Obama being a Muslim operative. Obama jokes that would be news to his pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ.

As Mark Twain once said, a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes. And that was long before the Internet.

Sheila Evans, Andrew Miller and Avery Miler contributed to this report

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