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Huckabee denounces supporters' push-polling in Iowa

  • Story Highlights
  • Huckabee supporters making calls that ask leading questions about his rivals
  • Huckabee has urged the group to stop the tactic, known as push-polling
  • Group's executive director, Patrick Davis, says Huckabee can't make them stop
  • Group plans to set up grassroots effort to help Huckabee, Davis says
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By Dana Bash
CNN Washington bureau
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DES MOINES, Iowa (CNN) -- Mike Huckabee boasts about running an above-the-mud campaign that does not smear his GOP rivals, but a group founded by some of his supporters appears to be doing just that.

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Supporters of GOP hopeful Mike Huckabee are making calls that promote Huckabee and criticize his rivals.

The group, Common Sense Issues, launched a series of automated calls to Iowa Republican voters Sunday. The calls offer negative information about Huckabee's rivals and positive information about the former Arkansas governor.

The group's executive director, Patrick Davis, dubbed the calls "personalized educational artificial intelligence," and said they are designed to promote Huckabee.

"We believe that Mike Huckabee has the character and the record to put this country on the right path, a path that is healthier physically, fiscally and culturally," Davis said.

The calls directed Iowa voters to the group's Web site, "trusthuckabee.com," which allows visitors to sign up to be a Huckabee precinct captain, an important organizing position for the Iowa caucus.

Huckabee denounced the tactics, known as "push-polling," and urged the group to stop the calls. Video Watch Huckabee talk about how he's campaigning »

He said while he could not legally stop the calls, he wanted those behind them to know they are not acting in his best interest.

"If people want to promote our campaign, that's certainly their business, but I hope they wouldn't tear down other candidates, because that's not what we're about," Huckabee said.

Huckabee's rivals also criticized the tactics.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney on Tuesday asked the Iowa attorney general to investigate the calls.

"Gov. Huckabee cannot just stand by and feign outrage as these coordinated attacks are made in his name and for his benefit," said a statement from Matt Rhoades, Romney communications director. "Relying on the resources of an out-of-state soft money organization to run your ground game is awful politics and voters are right to be annoyed by this kind of conduct."

When asked if he would support Romney's call for investigation, Huckabee replied, "It would be fine with me."

Common Sense Issues is an outside group, known as a 501c4, that is permitted to keep its donors anonymous. It can advocate for a candidate as long as it files a report with the Federal Election Commission.

Davis said that report has been filed.

He also said he is complying with the law prohibiting outside groups from coordinating with campaigns. He said the group will not stop its pro-Huckabee efforts.

"Our effort is completely independent from the Huckabee for president campaign and that includes directing our efforts. He can't tell us to take these calls down," said Davis.

In fact, Davis said the group intends to step up what he calls a "grassroots effort" to help Huckabee, with everything from direct mail to possible television and radio ads in Iowa and other early presidential contest states.

Davis has donated $1,000 to Huckabee's campaign.

The group's president, Cincinnati businessman and GOP financier Harold "Zeke" Swift, has also donated to Huckabee.

Ken Martin, a supporter of former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, received a call Sunday. Martin said after he followed the automated prompts saying "yes" he backs Thompson, he was asked leading questions like, "If you knew he was a lobbyist for a pro-choice group, would you vote for him?"

"It's kind of like you as a reporter when you stick a microphone in somebody's face saying, 'There are rumors of you beating your wife,' and then the next day there's an article in the paper saying so and so denies beating his wife," Martin said.

Martin, a lifelong Iowa Republican voter, said the tactics will backfire with Iowans and end up hurting Huckabee with voters who haven't made up their minds.

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Davis said his group's efforts will only help Huckabee, whose funding and grassroots organization is lagging behind his new popularity and first-place standing in recent polls.

"I'm not concerned that this is gong to backfire," Davis said, "I'm talking to a lot of people and they're freely giving their opinions." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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