N.H. launches inquiry into suspicious poll

November 17, 2007|By Michael Finnegan | Michael Finnegan,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- New Hampshire's attorney general launched an investigation yesterday of a polling operation accused of spreading negative information about Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his Mormon faith.

Romney and GOP rival John McCain each called for the criminal investigation after the Associated Press ran an article about a survey of New Hampshire voters that was conducted this week. According to some of the people called, survey takers asked whether aspects of Romney's religious beliefs would bother voters, including the church's pre-1970s ban on blacks serving as bishops. Voters were also asked about Romney's lack of military service during the Vietnam War.

"Whichever campaign is engaging in this type of awful religious bigotry as a line of political attack, it is repulsive and, to put it bluntly, un-American," said Matt Rhoades, communications director of the Romney campaign.

Anne Baker, 59, an independent voter who lives in Hollis, N.H., said she answered survey questions on Wednesday.

Among other things, Baker recalled, the pollster said that the Mormon church had barred blacks from becoming bishops until the 1970s and that Romney avoided military service in Vietnam because he was doing missionary work in France. She said she was asked whether such facts would make her more or less likely to vote for the former Massachusetts governor.

"I finally got a little bit upset because it was totally negative stuff," said Baker, a Romney supporter. "She wasn't asking my opinion. She was trying to get me to form an opinion."

New Hampshire law requires that campaign pollsters who ask questions about an opposition candidate must identify whom they are working for and against. But the sponsors insisted on anonymity, said Baker and retired Realtor Dona Pierce, who took the survey on Thursday night.

Pierce, a Republican, said she was also asked about Romney's raising taxes as governor of Massachusetts, supporting Democrat Paul Tsongas for president in 1992 and flip-flopping on issues.

Spokesmen for Republican White House contenders McCain, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson each said their campaigns had nothing to do with the survey.

The poll included flattering questions on McCain and his history as a Navy pilot in Vietnam, according to Pierce.

McCain issued a statement saying he was "outraged by the cowardly telephone calls that hide behind my name in an effort to disparage one candidate and advance the candidacy of another."

Michael Finnegan writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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