Anti-Dem Push-Polling In Oregon Senate Race?

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Is Gordon Smith, Oregon’s Republican senator who’s in a tight reelection race, using push polls to turn voters against his Democratic opponent?

Kay Phillips, of Cottage Grove, Oregon told TPMmuckraker that last night she received a call about the race. After responding to some standard polling questions, including how she intended to vote in the Senate race and the presidential race, Phillips says she was then asked whether her opinion of Jeff Merkley, Smith’s Democratic opponent, would change if she knew about tax increases he had supported. The caller then read six instances of tax increases, asking after each one whether she would change her opinion. The call lasted about 5-6 minutes, Phillips said.

At the start of the conversation, Phillips said, the caller told her she was calling with Western Wats. When, at the end of the call, Phillips the caller to repeat her affiliation, the caller spelled out the name, according to Phillips.

It’s worth noting that political campaigns sometimes make similar calls to test negative messages, rather than to deceptively sway the opinions of large numbers of voters. Message testing calls are typically — though not necessarily — longer than 5-6 minutes, and conducted on a far smaller scale than push polls, since they seek only to target a representative sample of the electorate.

A spokesman for Western Wats, a Utah-based market research firm, confirmed to TPMmuckraker that his firm was conducting calls on the Oregon Senate race, and named NMB Research as the client, would not give additional information, citing a non-disclosure agreement.

Western Wats may ring a bell for TPM readers. Last fall, the New Hampshire Attorney General launched an investigation after voters in that state and Iowa reported receiving calls from the firm, informing them of Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith, and praising John McCain’s military record. As of August, the investigation was still ongoing.

NMB Research did not immediately return a call for comment. According to campaign disclosure records, the Virginia-based firm was paid $13,000 by the National Republican Campaign Committee to conduct “generic survey” in January.

Calls by TPMmuckraker to Smith’s campaign, and to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which also conducts polling on Senate races, were not immediately returned.