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Carole Mikita and Andrew Adams reporting New Hampshire and Iowa residents are getting calls from a Utah-based company, calls that are targeting presidential hopeful Mitt Romney and his faith through push polling.
Push polling is negative campaigning that disguises itself as a political phone survey. The Romney campaign calls it religious bigotry, and his opponents say they had nothing to do with the poll.
Romney remains the front-runner in Iowa and New Hampshire, but he is the target of a new phone poll in both states by the the Utah-based survey company Western Wats. The questions in this poll are aimed specifically at his beliefs, not his politics.
Every second or third question targets Romney's faith with questions like: Did you know Mitt Romney received military deferments from the Vietnam War when he served a church mission in France? Did you know Mormons believe the Book of Mormon is better than the Bible? Did you know that some believe the Mormon church is a cult?
"I call it ‘political dynamiting:' Going back on an individual, and they don't have time to respond, and then it does change some behavior of the voter, it does. [It's] push polling," explained pollster Dan Jones.
An Iowa state representative received such a call just two days ago. "One question was: Some people believe that the Mormon church is a cult. Would that make you more or less likely to vote for Romney?" Iowa Rep. Ralph Watts told KSL Newsradio. "Not only a slam against Romney, it was a slam against the Mormon church, and the opposite side of the poll were questions that were very positive toward McCain."
John McCain's campaign says it had nothing to do with the calls and describes them as "disgraceful" and "outrageous." The Arizona senator is asking the New Hampshire's attorney general to investigate the calls. He also urged other candidates to join him in the legal action, calling Romney a "decent man."
The Guiliani campaign also denies involvement. However, Guiliani's campaign now employs a Texas firm called The Terrance Group. In the past, Western Wats has conducted polls for the Terrance Group.
A spokesman for Western Wats acknowledges it did the survey, but denies a political attack. "Western Wats has never, currently does not, nor will it ever engage in push polling," the spokesman said.
Romney's communications director sent a statement to Eyewitness News. It says, "Whatever 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."