CHICAGO - DECEMBER 01:  President-elect Barack Obama (L) introduces Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) as his choice for secretary of state during a press conference at the Hilton Hotel December 01, 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. Other members of the National Security Team named by Obama at the press conference include Washington attorney Eric Holder as attorney general, Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano as his choice for homeland security and he said Robert Gates would remain as defense secretary.  Retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones was selected for the position of national security adviser and Susan Rice as U.N. ambassador.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Getty Images
CHICAGO - DECEMBER 01: President-elect Barack Obama (L) introduces Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) as his choice for secretary of state during a press conference at the Hilton Hotel December 01, 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. Other members of the National Security Team named by Obama at the press conference include Washington attorney Eric Holder as attorney general, Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano as his choice for homeland security and he said Robert Gates would remain as defense secretary. Retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones was selected for the position of national security adviser and Susan Rice as U.N. ambassador. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Now playing
04:15
Hillary Clinton did not start the 'birther' movement
PHOTO: CBS
Now playing
01:43
Hillary Clinton defends Bill not resigning
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
02:12
Clinton: Kavanaugh ceremony a political rally
Now playing
01:48
Clinton laughs at Kavanaugh's comment
PHOTO: CBS
Now playing
01:00
Hillary Clinton makes cameo on 'Murphy Brown'
hillary clinton amanpour impeachment_00014522.jpg
hillary clinton amanpour impeachment_00014522.jpg
Now playing
01:47
Clinton: Impeachment 'will be left to others to decide'
hillary clinton republicans amanpour intv vpx_00000000.jpg
hillary clinton republicans amanpour intv vpx_00000000.jpg
Now playing
03:04
Clinton: Civility starts by electing Democrats
Now playing
00:55
Clinton ends Franklin tribute with smartphone
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
01:49
Clinton rejects Trump comparisons to her husband
PHOTO: Schomburg Center
Now playing
01:58
Bill Clinton: I apologized for Lewinsky scandal
US President Donald Trump (L) and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrive for a meeting in Helsinki, on July 16, 2018. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP)        (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
PHOTO: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
US President Donald Trump (L) and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrive for a meeting in Helsinki, on July 16, 2018. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
04:21
Fact check: Hillary Clinton's misleading comments
Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks at the Eighth Annual Women in the World Summit at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts on April 6, 2017, in New York City.
PHOTO: Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images
Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks at the Eighth Annual Women in the World Summit at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts on April 6, 2017, in New York City.
Now playing
00:39
Hillary Clinton goes after al-Assad, Putin
AUSTIN, TX - NOVEMBER 17:  Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton signs copies of her new book
PHOTO: Rick Kern/WireImage/WireImage
AUSTIN, TX - NOVEMBER 17: Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton signs copies of her new book 'What Happened' at BookPeople on November 17, 2017 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Rick Kern/WireImage)
Now playing
01:29
Clinton: Trump parrots what Putin says
PHOTO: TV3
Now playing
01:01
Clinton: Children treated as political pawns
PHOTO: Broadway Video/Universal Television
Now playing
01:15
Miley Cyrus tears up thanking Hillary Clinton
RBG on sexism and HRC_00010727.jpg
RBG on sexism and HRC_00010727.jpg
Now playing
01:50
RBG says Clinton was criticized worse than men

Story highlights

The emails were published by WikiLeaks

Democrats said it was simply an effort to test Obama's vulnerabilities in a potential general election

(CNN) —  

A hacked email published by WikiLeaks this week shows that Democratic strategists – including top political allies of Hillary Clinton – were gauging voter attitudes about the Muslim faith of Barack Obama’s father during Clinton’s unsuccessful fight for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.

If this had come out in the midst of the 2008 Democratic primaries it would no doubt prompt angry comments from Obama campaign staffers and condemnations of attempts to other-ize the senator. But Democrats, not surprisingly, were mum Friday.

According to Tom Matzzie and Paul Begala, two Democratic consultants advising the 2008 polling effort by Progressive Media USA, it was simply an effort to test Obama’s vulnerabilities in a potential general election against John McCain.

Begala and Matzzie told CNN that the group also tested arguments against Clinton, a claim that is backed up by a separate hacked email available on WikiLeaks as Document ID 2187.

“This is Campaigning 101,” said Matzzie, an Obama supporter in 2008 who was the president and executive director of Progressive Media USA. “You test the vulnerabilities of your candidate – something (Republicans) should have done for Donald Trump.”

The emails were published by WikiLeaks, which has now posted roughly 10,000 emails hacked from the account of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. Clinton’s campaign has not confirmed the content or veracity of the emails.

“We’re still not confirming whether or not any of the WikiLeaks documents are authentic and are therefore not commenting on their content,” Clinton campaign spokesman Josh Schwerin said.

In a January 9, 2008, email to Podesta, Begala, Matzzie and two others, an analyst at Stan Greenberg’s Democratic polling firm proposed asking voters for their reaction to 15 potential Obama vulnerabilities.

The list of anti-Obama arguments included this one about the faith of Obama’s father: “Obama (owe-BAHM-uh)’s father was a Muslim and Obama grew up among Muslims in the world’s most populous Islamic country,” an apparent reference to Obama’s time in Indonesia.

Twelve percent of the poll respondents in 10 battleground states at the time thought that Obama’s father being a Muslim and Obama growing up around Muslims was one of the top two reasons to vote against Obama.

Progressive Media found that the most effective Republican argument against Obama was the notion that Obama favored raising taxes by “$2 trillion.” Twenty-one percent of poll respondents said that the tax argument was one of the best reasons to vote against Obama.

Matzzie said that the polling project developed over a two-month period. Originally, it was going to test John Edwards in addition to Clinton and Obama, but he was dropped after he failed to win the Iowa caucuses and his chances at the nomination evaporated.

“It was pretty obvious Obama was going to be the nominee,” Matzzie said. “It was more important to understand attacks on him than it was two months earlier.”

Begala, who is now a CNN political commentator and an adviser to Priorities USA, a pro- Clinton super PAC, tells CNN that this email was labeled “McCain survey” because “it was designed to test attacks that might come in the general election.”

Begala was hired by Progressive Media USA to advise the group.

“We could not coordinate with either campaign, and worked to prepare to defend either candidate in the general election,” wrote Begala in an email to CNN. “Our entire focus was the general election. Both Obama and Clinton supporters were, at the time, concerned the eventual nominee would emerge wounded and vulnerable for the general election.”

The group disbanded after the nomination fight was settled because Obama publicly urged his supporters to give money directly to his campaign not to independent political committees. Progressive Media USA received funding from George Soros, Steve Bing, the Service Employees International Union and others.

In addition to gauging voter reactions to the Muslim faith of Obama’s father, the polling team also proposed testing that Obama had described his former cocaine use as using “a little blow.” The group also tested Obama’s support for driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, his stance on gay adoption, and his 2007 decision to stop wearing an American flag pin.

The group tested multiple potential Republican arguments against Clinton including that she “flip-flopped” on driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, that she “pandered to anti-war radicals” by cutting off emergency funds for the Iraq War and that she has taken “more money from lobbyists and special interests than any other candidate.”

“We were trying to simulate an election against McCain,” Matzzie said. “If you don’t include negative questions about your own candidates in the polling, the research is worthless because no real election is like that.”