Automated phone polls disparaging rivals of Republican White House hopeful Mike Huckabee started across the state Tuesday evening and the head of the group making them said that more than 1 million will be made in a three-day span.
Huckabee’s campaign quickly disavowed the push polling. “We know nothing about that and don’t condone it. Anyone who is doing that in an effort to help us needs to stop. This does not reflect the positive spirit of the campaign,” said spokeswoman Alice Stewart.
The calls were expected. In December, Colorado-based Common Sense Issues promised to make 1 million phone calls in South Carolina supporting Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor who repeatedly has distanced himself from the group.
Common Sense executive director Patrick Davis said Tuesday night that the calls started about 5 p.m. from a call center in Virginia and should be completed sometime Thursday.
The Republican primary here is Saturday.
Among the people receiving the push polling calls was a county co-chairman of former Sen. Fred Thompson’s campaign.
Jason Goings, the Aiken County co-chairman for Thompson, said the call he received started by asking him if he was a Republican who planned to vote in Saturday’s primary and then asked whom he supported. After he hit the button for Thompson, a voice highlighted Huckabee’s position against abortion and said Thompson worked as a lawyer for a lobbying firm that protected abortion rights.
The call also attacked Thompson, a former Tennessee senator and actor, on same-sex marriage, illegal immigration and taxes.
Goings said he has received a half-dozen calls in the past two days from other campaigns. But he said this was the first profoundly negative call he has received about the election.
“I’ve never had a nasty one, and that one was nasty one,” Goings said.
Davis said Common Sense Issues is not affiliated with Huckabee and does not coordinate with his campaign. He said his group backs the former governor because of his views on issues including a strong defense and cutting taxes.
“The folks who have been critical of our phone calls generally are supporting Mike Huckabee’s opponents. They criticize the fact that the calls are happening, but there has not been criticism of the fact that the information we provide is factual,” he said.
South Carolina law prohibits automated calls for political purposes with a penalty of 30 days in jail and a $200 fine for each violation, but such calls are commonplace.
Common Sense Issues has defended the calls as free speech and said they are protected under federal law.