Automated calls offering info about candidates decried

Don’t be surprised if you receive an automated phone call that suggests Mike Huckabee is nearly a saint and his political opponents sell out to “Islamoterrorists.”

Or that they support gay rights and gay marriage.

Las Vegan Roberta Gordon has already gotten tagged.

“It was just slimy,” Gordon recalled.

Hundreds of thousands of Nevadans are in the process of being dialed up.

“We hope to call 546,000 households in Nevada on behalf of Huckabee,” said Patrick Davis, executive director of Common Sense Issues, a nonprofit organization that states its mission this way: “We are American citizens dedicated to educating and informing our fellow citizens in an in-depth manner about public policy issues.”

Davis said his organization, founded in April, made 1 million computerized calls in Iowa, 400,000 in New Hampshire and more than 3 million calls in Michigan.

“I think we helped Huckabee win the caucus in Iowa,” Davis said Tuesday.

Huckabee spokesman Jim Harris said Tuesday that Huckabee has asked Common Sense Issues to stop the phone calling.

“The governor does not favor that kind of negative campaigning,” Harris said. “He’s running a very positive campaign. Of course, this is a free country.”

Davis said his organization was not founded to help Huckabee. It just happened, he said, that Huckabee’s stance on the issues was the same as those who fund Common Sense Issues.

Steve Friess, a freelance journalist living in Las Vegas, said he received a computerized call Sunday that ended up with him hearing that Republican presidential contender Rudy Giuliani favors gay marriage while Huckabee and his wife just redid their traditional wedding vows.

Such phone calls are often called a push poll, a political campaign technique in which an organization or individual tries to influence respondents under the guise of a poll through negative information. Generally, large numbers of people are contacted, with little or no effort made to analyze data.

Sen. John McCain might be the most famous target of such campaigning. During the 2000 Republican Party primary in South Carolina, voters were asked whether they would be more or less likely to vote for him if they knew he had fathered a black child out of wedlock. McCain and his wife were the parents of an adopted Bangladeshi girl.

Though some alleged the Bush campaign, which was in a close race with McCain, did the push polling, Bush and his staff denied it.

Davis said the calls made by his group should not be called push polls because questions are asked of those called.

“A human voice is recorded asking the questions,” he said. “You respond with your voice. How you respond dictates the next question. We are gathering information.”

Though Friess does not support Giuliani, he gave the former New York mayor’s name when he was asked who he would favor in the Republican primary. He wanted to see how the system worked.

That is how information was then given to him about Giuliani being pro gay.

Davis said his firm’s calls, rather than being described as push polls, should be termed “personalized educational artificial intelligence calls.”

When Gordon was asked in the survey whether she was voting in the Republican primary, she replied no. She later was asked whether she approved of Sen. Harry Reid’s desire to surrender Iraq and give up to the “Islamoterrorists.”

E. Brent Nelson, a Las Vegas technical consultant who supports Mitt Romney, said he was contacted Monday by Common Sense Issues.

He said the automated voice told him Huckabee has never supported homosexual marriage while Romney signed a bill legalizing it in Massachusetts.

“I hung up the phone because I am pretty sure that I was being fed incorrect or skewed information clearly favoring Huckabee over everyone else,” he said.

Though at one point in his political career Romney preached equality for homosexuals, he later spoke in favor of a ban on gay marriage.

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