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In N.H., Voters Get Anti-Mormon Calls

The first push-poll scandal of the 2008 season has erupted, forcing two leading campaigns to deny their involvement, and raising questions about the tenor of what could be a nasty final stretch for the Republican nomination.

Voters in Iowa and New Hampshire on Thursday began receiving telephone calls that at first appeared to be polling calls, but quickly offered exceedingly negative views about former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and his Mormon religion.

The calls were first reported by the Associated Press and the Politico website. A push poll is not a survey, but is instead a political telemarketing call disguised as a poll meant to pass along rumors and innuendo.

On Friday, Arizona Sen. John McCain asked the New Hampshire attorney general to investigate the incident, calling the calls "repugnant and despicable" and saying that "it is especially shameful that those responsible would hide behind a push poll to impugn a candidate's faith."

McCain's camp has denied being behind the calls, which the AP reported were conducted by Western Wats, a Utah-based company. Former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani has also denied being responsible for the calls.

Romney has largely chosen to downplay the issue of his Mormon faith and concerns in some quarters that bigotry could lead some Christian conservatives to vote against him. Aides say he has not decided to give a major address on the issue, like John Kennedy did about his Catholicism .

But his campaign was quick to condemn the push-polling this week. Spokesman Matt Rhoades said that "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. There is no excuse for these attacks. Governor Romney is campaigning as an optimist who wants to lead the nation. These attacks are just the opposite. It's ugly and divisive."

A spokesman for Western Wats told the Associated Press that his company does not do push polling.

--Michael D. Shear

By Washington Post editors  |  November 16, 2007; 11:04 AM ET
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