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Romney denounces phone calls attacking his faith

  • Story Highlights
  • Push-polling is a political tactic disguised as legitimate polling
  • People in New Hampshire, Iowa reported receiving calls that attack Romney
  • Rivals campaigns have suggested Romney's camp planted the calls
  • The former Massachusetts governor calls the phone calls "un-American"
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From Dana Bash
CNN Washington Bureau
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DES MOINES, Iowa (CNN) -- "You've got to be kidding" was GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney's incredulous response.

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GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney says he has no idea who is behind calls in New Hampshire and Iowa.

The question: Is he confident that no one associated with his campaign was involved in so-called push-polling?

The practice is a political attack disguised as legitimate polling. Callers portray themselves as nonpartisan members of a polling organization, then provide negative or misleading information about a candidate in an effort to discourage voting for that person.

Romney appeared taken aback because the phone calls -- reported in early presidential contest states of Iowa and New Hampshire -- cast aspersions on him and his Mormon faith.

The calls also raised questions about deferments he received during the Vietnam War because he was doing missionary work in France.

"Obviously, the beneficiaries of push-polling that attacks me is not me. Somebody else has obviously pushed that forward. I have no idea who it was, but I hope the attorney general of New Hampshire finds out who it is, and we can get that resolved and we can know who was behind it, " Romney told CNN. Video Watch what Romney says when asked about push-polling »

Some of his rival campaigns privately have suggested that a Romney ally did the calls deliberately to illicit mass condemnation and perhaps discourage an opponent from using the tactic closer to Election Day.

"I think it's the same kind of conspiracy theorists that you're raising that say, 'Oh, we brought down the World Trade Center ourselves,' " the former Massachusetts governor said. "It turns everything on its head. It's a little silly I think."

Matt Rhoades, Romney's communications director, said the calls were "repulsive."

Romney is "campaigning as an optimist who wants to lead the nation. These attacks are just the opposite. They are ugly and divisive," he said in a statement.

Rhoades also said Sen. Judd Gregg, a chairman of Romney's campaign in New Hampshire, has asked state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte to open an investigation into the matter immediately.

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Other GOP presidential campaigns have denounced the push-polling, which roiled voters in both states who got the calls.

"But as you know it was vicious attack on me, an un-American attack on me --and that's totally inappropriate, particularly at a time like this with Thanksgiving recognizing that this is a nation that celebrates diversity of religious thought and belief," Romney said. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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