Politics: Leading Questions

It certainly sounded like a push poll. “If elected, Rudy Giuliani said he would vote for Supreme Court judges who are against abortion,” a telephone pollster warned a Westchester resident last week. He then asked if that information changed how the voter felt about Giuliani. Later in the half-hour survey, the caller, who identified himself as an employee of GSG (the Democratic polling firm Global Strategy Group), hit the abortion button again: If elected to the Senate, he said, “Rudy Giuliani will vote with Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond against Roe v. Wade.

Was this Valentine’s Day survey of an undetermined number of people push-polling, New York-style? It would seem a risky strategy so soon after John McCain made headlines by accusing George W. Bush of using push polls in South Carolina. “Push calls are much shorter,” says Democratic consultant Hank Scheinkopf, who worked on Bill Clinton’s 1996 campaign but is not involved in Hillary’s senate bid. “And they don’t actually ask questions – they just spread some malicious lie and hang up.” It’s also a little early. “Push polls are used in the last weeks of a race,” says Phil Friedman, another unaffiliated Democratic consultant. “It sounds like they were testing what themes will be used later for negative ads.” But it was a poll – and it did push the truth. “The mayor’s position is well known,” says Giuliani campaign manager Bruce Teitelbaum. “He’s strongly pro-choice.”

Howard Wolfson, communications director for the Clinton campaign, categorically denies any connection with GSG or the poll. (But he does note that “Giuliani has said that he might vote for an anti-Roe Supreme Court nominee.”) Peter Kauffman, press secretary for New York’s Democratic State Committee, says he’s used Global Strategy in the past, but won’t discuss the DSC’s current activities.

GSG’s Jeff Plaut won’t say whether his firm conducted the survey, but he won’t deny it either, answering only, “We don’t talk about our clients or our strategies.” Plaut’s partner Chris Lapetina says, “We would never throw out some lie that nobody has verified.” And that bit about Giuliani, Thurmond, and Helms? “I don’t even know if that was our poll,” says Lapetina. “But both sides do legitimate opposition research, and there has to be something the question was referring to – it might have been back in 1981. Any claims you make are going to be subject to media scrutiny, so it would make no sense to fabricate something.”

For his part, Giuliani’s Teitelbaum says he’s unfazed to hear of the poll. “The Clinton campaign has engaged in so many questionable tactics,” he says, “nothing they do would surprise me.” Teitelbaum says the mayor is not making plans for negative cold-calling. “We have not engaged in that practice,” he says. “And we have no current intentions to. But nobody has a crystal ball.”

Politics: Leading Questions