Tuesday, November 20, 2007

That tremor you just felt

Was the Romney campaign hitting the ground at orbital velocity.

From The Boston Herald:

Former Bay State Gov. Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign furiously denied rumors yesterday that his own supporters were involved in calls placed to voters in Iowa and New Hampshire that spread anti-Romney smears under the guise of conducting a poll.

Political strategists and bloggers slung accusations at Romney’s camp yesterday after a scathing article appeared in the National Review titled “Did Mitt Romney Push Poll Himself?” which identified several Romney supporters at Western Wats, a Utah-based firm believed to have made the calls. The practice of using phony polls to plant a negative message is commonly known as push-polling.

“The idea that Mitt Romney or his supporters are spreading negative information about him is preposterous,” Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom told the Herald. “These paranoid delusions aren’t worthy of a serious response.”

The New Hampshire attorney general launched an investigation into the calls, which may violate state election laws requiring all political advertising and phone pitches to identify the candidate being supported.

Jim Kennedy, assistant attorney general in charge of election law enforcement in the Granite State, vowed that subpoenaed phone records and other evidence will unveil the culprits, despite client confidentiality clauses repeatedly cited by Western Wats.

Among the questions asked during the 20-minute calls placed last week were whether the person polled knew Romney received Vietnam-era military deferments while serving in the Mormon missionary in France, that none of his sons served in the military and that the Mormon religion didn’t accept blacks as bishops until the 1970s.

The calls also included flattering questions about the military service of Sen. John McCain, whose camp immediately denied responsibility and filed a complaint with the New Hampshire attorney general Friday, as did Romney’s.

“At this point, everyone should be a suspect,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. That includes both Republicans and Democrats, said Sabato, who researched push-polling for his book “Dirty Little Secrets.”

The National Review article cited sources who speculated Romney’s camp put the hit out on itself “because his campaign wanted polling data regarding the negative perception of his Mormon faith for internal use.” But others speculated a motivation to pre-empt attacks on Romney’s faith.

Here is a link to, and portion of, the NRO article referenced in the Boston Herald piece:

Shortly after reports of Romney being targeted in a push poll emerged, the firm making the calls was identified as Western Wats, which is based in Utah and has a number of Romney campaign contributors on the payroll. Western Wats was founded by Ron Lindorf who has ties to the business school at the Mormon-owned Brigham Young University, Romney’s alma mater (Lindorf has since divested himself from the company). Lindorf’s brother Paul and his wife Teena are avid supporters of Romney (Paul is a former employee of Western Wats who retired five years ago; Paul and Teena claim not to know Romney or have a vested interest in his campaign).

Evidence collected from Internet bulletin boards dedicated to tracking telemarketers and nuisance phone calls suggests that Western Wats may be tied directly to the Romney campaign.

[. . .]

For its part, Western Wats has issued a statement on its website denying that it engages in push polling although the only source that the company has spoken to about the matter is a blogger on mymanmitt.com.

However, there’s a growing chorus of voices speculating Romney push polled himself. “I smell a dirty trick. I suspect a pro-Romney motive to inoculate against future use of the religious issue and to breed sympathy for Romney … a 20-minute call is the work of an amateur. The long call is designed to get ALL the negatives out, to put them off limits for future attacks,” Roger Stone — a master of Republican dirty tricks — told The Politico’s Jonathan Martin. Stone pointed out that Robert F. Kennedy was behind anti-Catholic campaign tricks — calls and literature — to help get the first Catholic president elected. An anonymous website attacking Fred Thompson with ties to the Romney consultants in South Carolina earlier this cycle suggests such earnestness may not be below Romney campaigners.

Very interesting. Go read the rest of the NRO article as there are even indications that the Giuliani campaign could be involved.