Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Look who was behind the push poll in Iowa

Pro-Huckabee group revealed
John Martin, politico 12/4/07

Mike Huckabee's campaign is being aided by an independent group run by a former top aide at the NRSC and funded in part by a group of retired Procter & Gamble executives in Ohio.

"Trust Huckabee," whose website went live last week, was responsible for flooding Iowa with automated calls last night praising the former Arkansas governor and criticizing his GOP opponents.

Patrick Davis, a Colorado-based political consultant who served as political director of the NRSC in 2004, is running the organization and confirmed in a telephone interview that they were a pro-Huckabee outfit and were responsible for the calls.

Davis stressed that they were "completely independent" of Huckabee's Arkansas-based campaign, but the formation of the group has caused concern in Little Rock.

Huckabee's campaign sent out comments the candidate made about the calls this morning on the trail in Iowa.

"Our campaign has nothing to do with the push polling and I wish they would stop," Huckabee said. "We don't want this kind of campaigning because it violates the spirit of our campaign. I don't want to become President because I disabled the other candidates, I want to become President because I am the best candidate."

Huckabee's campaign manager, Chip Saltsman, also issued a statement describing the calls as "extremely counterproductive."

"It takes the campaign off message at a time when Governor Huckabee is resonating with voters as never before," Saltsman said. "It loses votes rather than gains them. It's an underhanded way of doing business that is not welcomed by the campaign and it flies in the face of what Governor Huckabee stands for: integrity and clean politics. On behalf of Governor Huckabee and his campaign, I ask that these calls be stopped immediately."

But Davis said not only won't they stop, but that the calls last night represent only the start of their effort for Huckabee. He hinted that they'll soon do similar voter contacts , what he called "personalized educational artificial intelligence calls," in other early states and denied that they were negative.

"The people who would be upset learning more about a candidate's true positions are those that are in that candidate’s camp already," he said.

He also reiterated that they would be actively recruiting precinct captains to bring out Iowans to the caucuses, but said that such a separate effort from that of Huckabee’s campaign would be a help not hindrance.

“It helps our candidate by driving compatriots that are favorable to Mike Huckabee to the caucuses,” Davis argued. “It’s capacity-building.”

Asked if they’ll move beyond the internet and phone calls and air television or radio ads, Davis said, “we would like to.”

He wouldn’t reveal any donors’ names, but one active member of the group is Harold “Zeke” Swift, a retired executive at Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble.

Contacted by phone this morning, Swift repeatedly referred me to Davis but did acknowledge his involvement and that he’s a Huckabee supporter and donor.

Swift and his wife served as co-hosts for a Huckabee fundraiser earlier this month in suburban Cincinnati.

Swift was also involved in the efforts of sister independent groups last year, both called “Common Sense,” that sent similar calls into states with competitive Senate races. The 501 (c) (4) parent group of the Huckabee organization is called “Common Sense Issues." This organization is also playing in contested Senate races in 2008, and just began airing an ad attacking Rep. Mark Udall (D), who is running in an open seat race in Colorado.

Swift wouldn’t say if another member of the 2006 effort and current Procter & Gamble executive, Nathan Estruth, was involved in funding “Trust Huckabee,” but Davis said the donors “were similar but not identical” to last cycle.

Estruth was also a sponsor of Huckabee’s fundraising reception earlier this month and he and his wife have already given $2,300, the maximum allowed in a primary, to Huckabee..

Estruth didn’t return messages left at his office or home.

Davis worked with Saltsman at the NRSC in 2002, but said he hadn’t talked to his old colleague or anybody else working for Huckabee about the group.

In an email, Saltsman said he knew nothing about the organization.

Davis emphasized that they were “above board” and would report what they had to with the IRS and FEC.

No comments: