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Mystery push poll casts Patrick Murphy as racist, liar (with audio)


The anonymous, automated telephone recording asks a few questions to gauge what would make the listener more or less likely to vote for Florida U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy.

One of the questions lands like a bombshell:

What if you knew his old super PAC had run "a racist TV ad falsely showing his African-American opponent with a gold tooth punching a white woman in the face?"

That's what some Florida Democrats heard over the weekend when they answered the push poll against Murphy, a Jupiter congressman running to challenge Republican Sen. Marco Rubio. Murphy's chief rival is U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson of Orlando. 

Polls intended to disseminate negative information about opponents -- rather than to objectively sample public opinion -- are known as "push" polls, because they "push" a particular message.

The "racist" ad mentioned in the anti-Murphy call appears to refer to a 2012 TV spot by American Sunrise, a super PAC that backed Murphy against then-incumbent Republican Rep. Allen West.

The controversial ad showed a cartoon image of West wearing boxing gloves. It accused him of fighting for women's healthcare funding -- while showing Cartoon West jabbing a woman in the chin. The same ad showed a glint on West's smile, as if he had a gold tooth. (West and his supporters argued at the time that the ad was racist, but the NAACP disagreed.)

Another push-poll question mentions that Murphy "claimed that he cleaned up the BP Gulf oil spill, but neither he nor his company ever received a single clean-up contract." (PolitiFact reviewed that claim.) Two other questions note Murphy used to be a Republican.

"Thank you for participating in our poll regarding the August 30th Democratic primary," the call concludes.

Who's behind the call is a mystery. A partial recording of the English-language version of the call shared with by the Miami Herald does not include a disclaimer required for political advertising. Another listener who reported the call to the Herald -- having heard it in Spanish -- also said the call included no disclaimer. Sometimes, automated "electioneering communications" sneak in a disclaimer some 30 seconds after the call is over -- meaning most listeners and answering machines hang up before it plays.

Grayson's campaign did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did Rubio's campaign.

On Saturday, Murphy's campaign emailed a fundraising pitch to supporters titled, "ALERT: new push polls."

"Floridians across the state are being hit with pushpolling -- a shady tactic, masquerading as a legitimate political poll, but designed to smear Patrick," says the email from Laura Carlson, the campaign's digital director. "Whoever it is, our anonymous opponent is targeting us because they know we can beat Marco Rubio in November."

The email also references George W. Bush's presidential campaign in 2000 -- alluding to how then-Bush rival John McCain was smeared in South Carolina over his adopted daughter.

UPDATE: Listen to the full English-language call.

Push Poll