Charges of dirty tricks flew in the final week of an increasingly heated 2nd District congressional race, with aides to Democrat Mike Michaud accusing associates of state Sen. Susan Longley of engaging in a push poll essentially calling her East Millinocket rival “just plain stupid.”
Michaud campaign aides asserted Wednesday that the telephone poll, received by one Michaud supporter late Tuesday, looked to discredit the candidate by comparing the millworker’s educational background with that of Longley, a lawyer and college instructor.
“In what is the most appalling part of the phone call, the caller offers a comparison of Susan Longley and Mike Michaud’s educational background which leaves the voter with the impression that Mike is somehow unqualified to serve in Congress and is, in fact, just plain stupid,” Michaud campaign manager Peter Chandler wrote in a news release.
Longley on Wednesday steadfastly denied that her campaign had anything to do with the poll, and condemned what in recent years has become a commonplace political practice in high-stakes campaigns.
“In addition to being unethical, I consider push polling to be completely counterproductive, especially here in Maine, where I, for one, pride myself on running clean, issue-oriented campaigns focused on helping people with their urgent health care needs,” said Longley who further denied knowledge of any such polling being done on her behalf by supporters. “We in Maine are better than this.”
A push poll is a form of negative campaigning that pretends to be a scientific survey but really is a ploy designed to push voters into voting against a particular candidate or issue.
Longley and Michaud are considered among the front-runners in the June 11 Democratic primary, where they face party rivals Sean Faircloth of Bangor, John Nutting of Leeds, Lori Handrahan of Sorrento and David Costello of Lewiston.
After graduating from high school, Michaud took a job at Great Northern Paper Co. in Millinocket, where he has worked for 28 years.
For 22 of those years he served in the Legislature, which – contrary to the suggestion of the telephone pollster – makes him qualified to serve in Washington, Chandler said.
While he conceded that the Longley organization might not have had a direct role in the “desperate attempt to sway voter opinion,” Chandler said the poll’s line of questioning suggested some involvement.
“Given the positive comments attributed to Longley and the disparaging remarks made about Mike, coupled with the failure to mention any other candidate, leaves no other reasonable conclusion than to suggest that this is being initiated by the Longley campaign,” he said.
Longley aide Rosemary Baldacci also denied the Michaud camp’s allegations, attributing their timing to the campaign’s imminent conclusion.
“It’s just, you know, it’s getting close to the end and people get desperate or whatever,” Baldacci said Wednesday. “Susan has never done anything like that. It’s not her type of politics.”
The “push polling” allegations are the second to surface in the primary campaign. In April, Republicans sparred over a poll funded by former Olympia Snowe aide Kevin Raye that reportedly asked participants whether they were aware of GOP rival Dick Campbell’s bankruptcy in the early 1990s.
Raye called Campbell’s charges “reckless” and denied his survey was a “push poll,” which his supporters said typically target large numbers of voters and wait unit the campaign’s final days when there is little time for a candidate to respond.