CONCORD, N.H. - Residents in New Hampshire and Iowa have received phone calls raising questions about Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, his Mormon faith, and the Vietnam War-era military deferments he received while serving as a missionary in France.
Western Wats, a Utah-based firm, placed the calls that initially sound like a poll but then pose questions that cast Romney in a harsh light, said those who received the calls. In politics, this type of phone surveying is called push polling - contacting potential voters and asking questions intended to plant a message in their minds, usually negative, rather than gauging people's attitudes.
A spokesman for Western Wats said he could not comment on the company's work, but said they do not do push polling.
The 20-minute calls started on Sunday in New Hampshire and Iowa. At least seven people reported receiving them.
New Hampshire law requires all political advertising, including phone calls, to identify the candidate being supported. No candidate was identified in the calls.
"Whatever 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," Romney spokesman Matt Rhoades said.
Last year, Western Wats conducted polling that was intended to spread negative messages about Democratic candidates in a House race in New York and the Senate race in Florida.
The Tampa Tribune and the Albany Times Union reported that Western Wats conducted the calls on behalf of the Tarrance Group.
That Virginia-based firm now works for Romney's GOP rival, Rudy Giuliani. The campaign has paid the firm more than $400,000, according to campaign reports.
Ed Goeas, chief of the Tarrance Group, said there is no connection between the Giuliani campaign and Western Wats. Tarrance is using a Houston firm to do its polling, he said.
Among the questions in the calls was whether a resident knew that Romney was a Mormon, that he received military deferments when he served as a Mormon missionary in France, that his five sons did not serve in the military, that Romney's faith did not accept blacks as bishops into the 1970s, and that Mormons believe the Book of Mormon is superior to the Bible.