South Carolina has developed an unfortunate reputation for sleazy tactics, especially when the far-right targets a candidate – see McCain, John, circa 2000 – and ThinkProgress has a report today about the latest smear campaign, this time against Elizabeth Colbert Busch.
A mysterious conservative group has been placing highly-misleading phone calls to South Carolina voters, trying to dissuade them from voting for the Democrat in an upcoming congressional special election. […]
ThinkProgress spoke with multiple individuals in South Carolina’s first congressional district who have received push polls from an unknown conservative group that only referred to itself as “SSI Polling”.
Occasionally, “push polls” are misidentified. It’s not uncommon, for example, for a campaign to do message-testing polls, asking respondents to react to various criticisms, to see which attacks a campaign has to worry about most. Push polls, meanwhile, aren’t polls at all, but rather, direct-to-voter smear campaigns masquerading as polls.
In South Carolina, the calls ThinkProgress reported on appear to actually be push polls, in which voters were asked bogus questions about things that never happened: “What would you think of Elizabeth Colbert Busch if I told you she had had an abortion?”; “What would you think of Elizabeth Colbert Busch if she had done jail time?”; and “What would you think of Elizabeth Colbert Busch if I told you a judge held her in contempt of court at her divorce proceedings?
For the record, there’s no evidence of any of these claims having any shred of truth. While message-testing polls are sometimes confused with push polls, there’s no reason to think Democrats or Colbert Busch would call voters and ask them to respond to made-up smears.
We may never know who, exactly, paid for these tactics, but it suggests Republicans are deeply worried about the race – if Mark Sanford were winning in this “red” district, the calls wouldn’t be necessary – and see Colbert Busch as a very strong candidate.
Of course, it’s also worth noting that smear campaigns like these are invariably reserved for the end of a race – the special election is in six days – so there’s less time for the accused to mount a defense and get the truth out to the public.