New Mexico Independent » Udall says opponents using push polls

Though Democratic Senate candidate Tom Udall faces no primary opposition, he is still facing some opposition of a different sort in the weeks leading up to the June 3 primary.

According to an e-mail to supporters from Udall campaign manager Amanda Cooper, a group from Ohio is using “push-polls” to spread information about Udall.

We’ve just received some disturbing news from one of our staff—the GOP “Swift Boat” attacks on Tom Udall have begun here in New Mexico. She got an automated “push-poll” phone call from an organization misleadingly calling itself “Common Sense Issues” this weekend. This group has been caught push-polling for Mike Huckabee in Iowa and the firm they used to make those calls has been fined in multiple states for violating the law. Now they’re here slinging mud at Tom Udall.

Neither Amanda Cooper nor Common Sense Issues was available for comment.

According to the American Association for Public Opinion Research, a push poll “is an insidious form of negative campaigning, disguised as a political poll.”Some attributes of a push-poll, as opposed to a legitimate poll, include:

  • One or only a few questions are asked, all about a single candidate or a single issue.
  • The questions are uniformly strongly negative (or sometimes uniformly positive) descriptions of the candidate or issue.
  • The organization conducting the calls is not named, or a phony name is used.
  • Evasive answers are given in response to requests for more information about the survey.

There can sometimes be a fine line between message polling and push polling. Mark Blumenthal, editor and publisher of Pollster.com, writes of examples in New York’s 20th Congressional District and Arizona’s 8th District as well as polls by Clinton in Iowa that toe the line between push polling and message testing.

It seems all outside observers agree, however, what Common Sense Issues is known for is push polling.

TPMMuckraker looked into the group while they were making calls in support of Mike Huckabee. The group’s tactics included accusing McCain of voting “to allow scientific experiments to be done on unborn children.”

While Cooper referred to the calls as ”’Swift Boat’ attacks,” Common Sense Issues is different from Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (SBVT), the group created to attack John Kerry, D-Mass., in the 2004 presidential election against George W Bush. SBVT was a so-called 527 organization, groups that are named for the tax code under which they filed. In this case, Common Sense Issues is a qualified non-profit, which are, according to Public Citizen, “incorporated non-profits that accept little or no corporate or union treasury funds, are not affiliated with any corporation or union, and whose exclusive purpose is political rather than business-oriented.”

The groups can advocate on behalf of a particular candidate, but cannot coordinate with that candidate’s campaign in any way.

Newsweek reported on Common Sense Issues and their work in support of Mike Huckabee.

Common Sense Issues is a tax-exempt group registered in Delaware whose organizers have acknowledged the use of controversial telephone polling tactics to promote Huckabee’s presidential bid — and allegedly to trash the campaigns of the former Arkansas governor’s rivals. The nonprofit also helped set up and run Trusthuckabee.com, a Web site that was involved in front-line efforts to recruit and mobilize Huckabee supporters to turn out for the Iowa caucuses.

Rival candidates have criticized Common Sense Issues’s tactics, questioning whether the group’s ties to the Huckabee campaign are really arms-length — as required by federal law. Huckabee has distanced itself from Common Sense Issues, renouncing its support and joining his rivals in calling for investigations into the nonprofit’s activities.

While the group gained the most notoriety from their work in the presidential election with the phone calls, they have also done work in Senate races, including against U.S. Rep. Mark Udall, D-Colo. Mark Udall is a cousin to Tom Udall and is running for Senate against former U.S. Rep. Bob Schaffer, R-Colo. The group aired two TV ads in Colorado targeting Mark Udall in December, according to The Denver Post.

The ads against Mark Udall focused on his support for drilling off the coast of Cuba and for his support of the Department of Peace bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio.

Common Sense Issues is not the first qualified non-profit to be involved in the New Mexico Senate race. Lilke Common Sense Issues, the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund is not a 527 group, but a qualified non-profit and launched the Two Bad 4 New Mexico campaign, which includes two TV advertisements, a radio advertisement and a Spanish-language radio advertisement. The group is also actively canvassing in Albuquerque on behalf of Tom Udall.

The Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund is actively opposing both Republican U.S. Reps. Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce. Wilson and Pearce are both vying for the Republican nomination and the chance to face Tom Udall, who is unopposed by any other Democrat, in the general election in November.

The Common Sense Issues Web site, which seems to still be under construction, lists among its issues, “Life Issues,” “Liberty” and “Radical Islam.”

Update:  Steve Terrell of the Santa Fe New Mexican writes the push poll is on behalf of Steve Pearce and also takes shots at Heather Wilson:

An automated “push poll” being conducted by a national conservative group in New Mexico’s U.S. Senate race is praising Republican candidate Steve Pearce while saying negative things about his Republican opponent Heather Wilson and the unopposed Democratic candidate Tom Udall.

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