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N.H. GOP decries Senate poll, asks state to investigate

POLLING MATTERS Paul Hodes has run ads against Kelly Ayotte, attacking her for not pursuing a mortgage firm involved in a Ponzi scheme. POLLING MATTERS
Paul Hodes has run ads against Kelly Ayotte, attacking her for not pursuing a mortgage firm involved in a Ponzi scheme.
By Norma Love
Associated Press / July 27, 2010

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CONCORD, N.H. — The state Republican Party asked the attorney general yesterday to investigate whether Democratic Senate candidate Paul Hodes conducted polling aimed at spreading negative information against his Republican opponent, Kelly Ayotte.

Party spokesman Ryan Williams said the complaint is about phone calls last week that asked what the GOP considered to be questions about Ayotte designed to elicit a negative response.

For example, the callers asked whether voters would be more or less likely to vote for Ayotte if they knew she ignored or failed to pursue a now-closed New Hampshire mortgage firm at the center of a Ponzi scheme when she was attorney general. Hodes has run ads hammering at Ayotte for not pursing the case.

Ayotte was attorney general when complaints surfaced about the mortgage firm now accused of swindling investors out of millions of dollars. But in accordance with state law, the complaints were sent to the state banking department, which has jurisdiction over such matters.

New Hampshire law says that, under certain conditions, poll questions about an opposing candidate that touch on the candidate’s character, status, or political stance or record amount to “push polling,’’ a negative campaign technique.

Push polling is allowed if the callers identify on whose behalf the call is made and provide a telephone number for the company doing the polling. The penalty for not doing so may subject someone to a fine or up to a year in jail, said Associate Attorney General Richard Head. He said he had not seen the complaint and could not comment on it.

Mountain West Research of Pocatello, Idaho, conducted the poll last week for Anzalone-Liszt Research, whose website lists Hodes as a client.

Stacey Jenkins, Mountain West’s attorney, said it acted as a subcontractor gathering information for Anzalone-Liszt and does not know which candidate paid for the research.

“They present us with a script that they’ve crafted and ask us to contact a list of phone numbers provided to us,’’ said Jenkins. “We read the script and provide information back to them.’’

Jenkins called the research a “message test’’ to determine reactions to statements. In a message test, the number of people called is much smaller than a push poll, Jenkins said.

“A push poll is an attempt to sway public opinion in and of itself,’’ he said.

Anzalone-Liszt did not immediately return a call requesting comment.

Hodes spokesman Mark Bergman would not say whether Hodes paid for the poll.

“All of our polls are lawful and conducted for statistical purposes only, not to disseminate messages. We don’t comment on the specific timing or content of any market research we conduct,’’ Bergman said.

Bergman said the complaint is frivolous and “trying to score cheap political points.’’

Williams countered that the poll was illegal and dishonest.

“We intend to call Paul Hodes and any Democratic candidate accountable who uses dirty tricks,’’ said Williams.

Ayotte spokesman Jeff Grappone said Ayotte delivered a letter to the Hodes campaign last week asking it to comply with the law.

“The Paul Hodes campaign needs to stop stonewalling and come clean with their involvement on these phone calls. New Hampshire voters deserve a campaign focused on the issues not on Paul Hodes’s shameless smears against Kelly Ayotte,’’ Grappone said.

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