Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney's presidential campaign is asking South Carolina supporters to report instances of "push-polling," a tactic used to smear candidates by making statements while pretending to take a poll.
The campaign's move comes after an independent political group, Colorado-based Common Sense Issues, announced plans to phone one million South Carolina households using an automated system that disparages opponents of Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister.
"We've been getting reports about anti-Romney push-polls from across the state," Romney South Carolina campaign manager Terry Sullivan said in an e-mail Thursday. "With just 24 days to go until the South Carolina primary, we need your help to combat these shady groups."
Sullivan asked anyone targeted by groups with anti-Romney push-polls, e-mails, or anything else to contact the Romney campaign by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 803-726-1111.
South Carolina law prohibits calling people for political or commercial purposes using automatically dialed announcing devices, but these calls remain common.
S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster, a co-chairman of John McCain's campaign in the state, said the calls are clearly against the law but said he didn't think anyone had ever been prosecuted.
State voters have reported receiving calls from an automated system that responds to a voice. It starts like a normal political polling call but eventually moves away from opinion-getting to opinion-shaping.
Common Sense Issues' Executive Director Patrick Davis has said the calls originate outside the state, are legal under federal law and amount to constitutionally protected free speech. "It's all factual," he said.
Huckabee has said he has no connection with the calls and wants them to stop. "Anybody who's doing this probably must be doing this for another campaign, not for mine, and trying to blame me for it," he said recently in New Hampshire.
Republican John McCain has complained about the outfit making similar calls in New Hampshire, alleging they violate a state law there that requires callers conducting "push polling" to identify the candidate they are working for or against.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771 or email@example.com.