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"Push-Polling" Calls Go Out in S.C. Special Election

"Push-Polling" Calls Go Out in S.C. Special Election

By Scott Conroy - January 29, 2013

The rough-and-tumble tactics for which South Carolina politics are renowned appear to have emerged in the special election to replace former Rep. Tim Scott.

Two GOP sources who live in the coastal 1st Congressional District -- but are not affiliated with any of the candidates running -- told RealClearPolitics that they each received a phone call Monday night from someone who appeared to be pushing the candidacy of state Rep. Chip Limehouse, though under the pretense of merely conducting a poll.

Limehouse represents a Charleston district in the South Carolina House and is among 16 Republicans competing against one another in the special election primary.

The recipients of the calls said they were first asked to answer a series of questions about the election, including how likely they were to vote, whether they were aware of the date of the primary, and for whom they intended to cast their ballot.

The caller then provided a series of what the recipients considered negative assessments of two other candidates in the race: state Sen. Larry Grooms and businessman and teacher Teddy Turner, whom the caller said was partially funded by his “liberal father,” CNN founder Ted Turner.

Next, the caller noted that Limehouse had helped to balance the state’s budget and would stand up for South Carolina against “Obama’s agenda.”

After being informed of this, the respondents were then asked again to say for whom they intended to vote.

Push-polling is a controversial technique in which positive information is offered about a particular candidate, along with negative assessments of rivals, all under the guise of gathering information.

Two Limehouse campaign aides did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.

One of the recipients of the apparent push-polling effort told RCP that the caller said she was affiliated with The Tarrance Group, a national Republican polling firm based in Alexandria, Va. An attempt to reach the firm for comment Tuesday was not immediately successful.

The calls were placed just hours after the deadline for candidates to file for the March 19 Republican primary.

Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, who held the seat from 1995 to 2001, is one of the 16 Republicans trying to succeed Scott, whom Gov. Nikki Haley appointed last month to the U.S. Senate, replacing Jim DeMint.

Sanford is attempting to make a comeback nearly four years after he precipitated one of the most colorful political scandals in recent history: He went missing from the state for six days, allegedly to hike alone on the Appalachian Trail -- but was subsequently discovered to have been in Argentina with his mistress, to whom he is now engaged.

Sanford and the other Republican contenders have already begun campaigning across the district. The former governor and congressman is widely expected to advance to an April 2 runoff election that will pit the top two GOP vote-getters against each other if none of the 16 breaks the 50 percent threshold.

Turner is the first candidate in the race to have begun airing TV ads. He appears to be trying to benefit from his name recognition while also distancing himself from his father’s progressive views.

In an interview with FOX News’ Bill O’Reilly on Monday night, Turner said he believed in promoting clean air and water but suggested that he did not accept scientific evidence pointing to manmade global warming.

“I don't believe that my Ford F-250 is causing global warming,” he said. “I might get a lot of flak for that, but, you know, we can't tax ourselves by going in with things like the Kyoto Protocol and that kind of stuff. So, no, I'm not a believer, but I want to make sure that we're still doing the right thing going forward. I just don't like scaring kids and telling them we are cooking ourselves.”

For his part, Grooms has earned the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney and intends to begin airing his own TV ads in the near future, according to Hogan Gidley, a South Carolina consultant whose firm has signed on with the conservative state senator’s campaign.

“He’s well known within the district,” Gidley said of Grooms. “He’s accomplished quite a few things in the last few years.”

Three Democrats also filed to run in the special election, including Elizabeth Colbert-Busch, the sister of Comedy Central’s satirical pundit (and Charleston native) Stephen Colbert, who shut down his own South Carolina-centric super PAC at the end of last year.

The general election in the Republican-leaning coastal district is set for May 7. 

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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