Political campaigns and super PAC often hire pollsters to survey voters about the potential strengths and weaknesses of an opponent or themselves. Evidence of that type of polling has surfaced in emails hacked from the private account of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, and released by the anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks.
In January 2008, a group of progressive activists, including Podesta, pondered polling voters about rumors involving then-Sen. Barack Obama’s cocaine use and about his late father’s Muslim faith. The questions were set to be asked as rumors were already swirling that the future president was secretly a Muslim born overseas. Obama has acknowledged experimenting with cocaine and marijuana in his youth.
Clinton and Obama were competing in the Democratic presidential primaries at the time.
Kristi Fuska, a polling analyst with Democratic firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, sent proposed questions for a telephone survey that would have asked questions about Obama, according to a message released by WikiLeaks. The message, entitled “McCain Survey,” was sent to Podesta and others close to the Clinton campaign, including Paul Begala and Tara McGuinness.
Here are the questions the poll team proposed asking:
“– 1 Obama (owe-BAHM-uh) was the only candidate at a recent event not to cover his heart during the national anthem and he has stopped wearing an American flag pin.
“–2 Obama (owe-BAHM-uh) benefited from a land deal from a contributor who has been indicted for corruption.
“–3 Obama (owe-BAHM-uh) would personally negotiate with the leaders of terrorist nations like Iran and North Korea without preconditions.
“–4 Obama (owe-BAHM-uh) voted against allowing people to use handguns to defend themselves against intruders.
“–5 Obama (owe-BAHM-uh) plans to raise taxes by 180 (one hundred and eighty) billion dollars a year to pay for his government-run health care plan
“–6 Obama (owe-BAHM-uh) voted repeatedly against emergency funding bills for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“–7 Obama (owe-BAHM-uh)’s father was a Muslim and Obama grew up among Muslims in the world’s most populous Islamic country.
“–8 Obama (owe-BAHM-uh) is ranked as one of the ten most liberal members of the Senate because of his support of issues like gay adoption.
“–13 Obama (owe-BAHM-uh) voted against requiring medical care for aborted fetuses who survive the procedure.
“–14 Obama (owe-BAHM-uh) supports giving driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.
“–15 Obama (owe-BAHM-uh) described his former use of cocaine as using ‘a little blow.’ ”
Begala said Friday that the message was sent to members of a group called Progressive Media, composed of Clinton and Obama supporters and led at the time by Tom Matzzie, a former director of MoveOn.
“We could not coordinate with either campaign, and worked to prepare to defend either candidate in the general election,” Begala explained in an email. “It was called ‘McCain survey’ because it was designed to test attacks that might come in the general election. 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.”
After securing the nomination, Obama called on the group to disband because at the time he didn’t approve of the use of super PACs in presidential election.
“Every campaign and every PAC tests potential negatives against the candidate they support,” Begala said. “That’s all this was.”
Matzzie described the polling as “Campaigning 101 to test vulnerabilities,” adding that they tested potential vulnerabilities for Clinton and Obama.
“While I can’t verify 100% veracity of the specific words from hacked emails. I am certain we tested a lot of things like that,” he said in an email. “The researchers who helped us cook up negatives went on to work for the Obama campaign itself.”
Mattzie and Begala say they do not recall whether these specific questions were asked, but that they were consistent with the kind of work they would have been doing at the time.
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Ed O’Keefe