Apparent Huckabee Backers Smear McCain

N.H. phone campaign starts as poll, then turns to attack on McCain.

February 9, 2009, 9:37 AM

Dec. 15, 2007— -- Bernie Campbell, a 26-year-old public school teacher in Laconia, N.H., was eating dinner at home Friday night with his wife, a graduate student at Dartmouth, when he got a phone call.

"Would you like to participate in a 60-second poll on the New Hampshire primary?" the automated voice asked.

Campbell, a West Lebanon, N.H., co-chair for the presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., figured what the heck, it was just 60 seconds.

After he told the automated caller that he intended to vote in the Jan. 8, 2008, New Hampshire GOP primary, that he considers himself pro-life, and that he intends to vote for McCain, the poll took on a decidedly negative tone, Campbell told ABC News.

"It was a series of questions that you would associate with a push poll," Campbell said, referring to the negative campaigning technique of pretending to be a pollster gathering information from voters when really the intention is to spread negative information about a rival.

The automated machine, which identified itself as being with Common Sense Issues, threw Campbell questions about whether he'd be less likely to support McCain if he knew the Arizona senator opposed a federal amendment to ban same sex marriage, or that he'd hurt the anti-abortion-rights cause by leading the charge for campaign finance reform.

Campbell said the call ended before he could even find a pen to start taking notes on what was being said, once he realized he was in the midst of some shady campaign tactics.

Earlier this month Common Sense Issues -- which is affiliated with supporters of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee -- set up an organization called Trust Huckabee, which began making calls in Iowa praising Huckabee and disparaging Huckabee's opponents.

McCain's New Hampshire campaign vice chairman, former Rep. Chuck Douglas, R-N.H., Saturday issued a statement demanding that Huckabee "immediately condemn these tactics and urge his supporters to stop this activity attempting to smear John McCain or any other candidate, and allow this campaign to be waged on the issues and each candidate's merits."

Huckabee has already made such comments, though, earlier this month when other Trust Huckabee calls were reported.

"Our campaign has nothing to do with the push polling and I wish they would stop," said Huckabee, who now leads in polls of likely Republican caucus goers in the Hawkeye state. "We don't want this kind of campaigning because it violates the spirit of our campaign. I don't want to become president because I disabled the other candidates, I want to become president because I am the best candidate."

Saturday afternoon Huckabee issued a similar statement. "As I've said before, our campaign has nothing to do with push polling and I wish they would stop."

His campaign manager Chip Saltsman added, "Anyone who has the slightest understanding of the race ahead and the mindset of voters would know this sort of activity is extremely counterproductive. It takes the campaign off message at a time when Gov. Huckabee is resonating with voters as never before. It loses votes rather than gains them. It's an underhanded way of doing business that is not welcomed by the campaign."

The New Hampshire attorney general is investigating who was behind push-poll phone calls earlier this month that disparaged former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and praised McCain, which McCain said he had nothing to do with.

Huckabee has also been targeted by a third-party group, calling itself Iowans for Some Semblance of Christian Decency, which insinuated that Huckabee, a former Baptist Minister, wasn't a good conservative or a good Christian.

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