GOP House candidates targeted in push polls in districts using negative attacks

08/28/2014 01:48 PM

At least a half dozen Republican state House candidates say they are the targets of survey calls that have gone beyond message testing for Democrats and crossed into push-poll territory.

Republicans, who are in the minority with 46 members compared to 54 Democrats in the House, are seeking to grab control of the chamber for the first time since 1921 with their crop of challengers to incumbents. But Democrats have put up top-flight contenders against entrenched incumbents in some of the most competitive races across the state.

Now five incumbent Republicans and one GOP candidate in an open seat have confirmed to Pure Politics that a polling firm is making automated calls to voters in their districts that give positive statements about the Democratic candidate before listing “possible criticisms” of the Republican candidate.

The calls end with the statement that the poll has been conducted by Public Policy Polling, the Raleigh, North Carolina based polling firm that has typically conducted surveys for Democrats. However, the automated message does not identify who is paying for the calls. Such a disclosure isn’t required by Kentucky law.

In an audio recording of one of the calls obtained by the Nelson County Gazette, voters are told positive remarks about Democratic candidate Audrey Haydon and asked to rate how positive they believe the quality is before they are told the caller will “read a few criticisms” of Rep. David Floyd, R-Bardstown, and the respondent is again asked to rate the remarks.

The criticisms of Floyd mainly deal with legislation he has filed including some dealing with education and votes he has taken against initiatives such as raising the minimum wage. The message says Floyd has “proven he doesn’t care about the needs or rights of Kentucky’s hard working families” with those votes.

Legislation Floyd has sponsored to abolish the death penalty is at the center of the first criticism read to the voters on the call. “Floyd would allow even the most heinous of criminals, including cop killers and child murderers, to get away with their actions,” the message says. It doesn’t mention that prominent Democrats, such as Sen. Gerald Neal of Louisville, have been equally vocal proponents of halting capital punishment.

Of Haydon, the automated recording tells voters about her family and background including the facts that she is the granddaughter and daughter of public school teachers and works for her father’s law firm representing injured workers. Because of this information, the caller says Haydon would be a strong fighter for students and teachers as well as workers from all walks of life.

But Floyd isn’t the only Republican targeted in the calls.

Other Republicans who have heard about calls in their district over the past week include Republican candidate Phil Moffett in the 32nd District race to replace Rep. Julie Raque Adams in Louisville, as well as Rep. Suzanne Miles in Owensboro, Rep. Ryan Quarles in Georgetown, and Rep. Michael Meredith of Brownsville.

And as WHAS reporter Joe Arnold was first to point out in a tweet, Public Policy Polling also is making calls in the 49th District in Louisville represented for two decades by Rep. Bob DeWeese, the House GOP caucus chairman. Democrat Gretchen Hunt is challenging DeWeese. Voters are told that DeWeese is for “big money corporations and D.C. style politics,” according to Arnold’s tweet.

Finding out from constituents

In a phone interview with Pure Politics, DeWeese said he has received only one call from a constituent who told DeWeese that automated poll says DeWeese is for “protecting the rich.”

Hunt told Pure Politics her campaign has nothing to do with the poll and would not comment on the remarks about DeWeese without a transcript of what exactly was being said about her opponent.

Meredith, meanwhile, has also heard from constituents who he said have been receiving the calls in his district which covers Edmonson, Hart, and Larue counties. Meredith told Pure Politics he had been told by many of the recipients of the call that the main criticism of him was that he “voted against raises for teachers and state workers.”

That remark pertains to a vote on a first version of the budget in the House many Republicans did not agree with because of other spending in the House version of the budget. The House and Senate spent many hours going over the details of the budget and hammering out things in each of the chamber’s versions to come to an agreement.

Meredith voted for the final agreement on the budget , which included raises for teachers and state workers.

Echoes of Democratic Party’s calls?

The Kentucky Democratic Party made similar statements about Meredith in an automated call during the session before the vote on the final version of the budget.

“Representative Meredith took a stand against Kentucky families,” the call during the session said about the first vote. “He voted no to a pay raise for our teachers, a modest pay raise for our state employees, voted no to giving our schools the first funding increase they have seen in years.”

That call also brought up the phrase about Washington-style politics, saying that the House Republicans have voted against issues like the minimum wage increase and “voted against our families, our businesses and our pocketbooks.” (Audio of the call can be heard at the bottom of this article.)

Kentucky Democratic Party Chairman Dan Logsdon told Pure Politics Thursday that the state party will be conducting polling in targeted races but could not comment on when they would be doing the polling or if the current calls are paid for by the party.

Several rounds of ‘push polling’

Quarles told Pure Politics the calls started in his district August 22 and he has been told by recipients of the call that it is also an automated push poll which begins with positive portrayal of his Democratic opponent before switching over to criticisms of his record, similar to the Floyd calls.

Another common denominator among many of these Republican candidates is that some calls began in mid-to-late July. Unlike the August calls, the July calls ended by saying the poll was conducted by Public Policy Polling and paid for by Kentucky Family Values — a super PAC that has been involved in the House races on behalf of Democrats.

Kentucky Family Values told Pure Politics Thursday that while they do use Public Policy Polling to do their polling, any calls paid for by the group will identify them by name and that the August calls are not being conducted by Kentucky Family Values.

Quarles, DeWeese and Miles each said the July calls paid for by Kentucky Family Values also talked about the teacher and state worker raises but some also said House Republicans did not vote for the bill to deal with the scourge of heroin. However, no one in the House voted for the legislation because the chamber ran out of time to vote on the measure when it was brought to the floor as the clock was running out.

Similar tactics have been used by both sides in previous elections in the state as Republicans have tried to link many House Democrats to President Barack Obama on the basis of their shared party registration and negative attacks from outside groups have been blamed for lost elections.

Hear the audio of the call paid for by KDP during the session here:

About Pure Politics

Pure Politics airs Monday through Friday at 7 p.m. ET and again at 11:30 p.m. ET in all of cn|2's Kentucky markets. The program features political analysis and news, as well as interviews with officials, candidates, policy makers and political observers.

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