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Weekend ‘push poll’ aims to make Sen. Haugen look bad

Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, shown here at a campaign rally in Langley on Monday, was the target of push polling over the weekend. - Brian Kelly / The Record
Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, shown here at a campaign rally in Langley on Monday, was the target of push polling over the weekend.
— image credit: Brian Kelly / The Record

Somebody is hoping to score points for Team Haddon in the upcoming primary with a political “dirty trick” called “push polling.”

A number of South End voters received phone calls this weekend asking negative questions about state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, while painting a favorable picture of her Republican challenger, Linda Haddon. America’s Third Party candidate Sarah Hart did not get mentioned.

However, the callers didn’t screen their calling lists very carefully and also called at least two well-known South End Democrats, former Langley Mayor Neil Colburn and Dave Johnson, the husband of Helen Price Johnson, who is running for Island County Commissioner.

Colburn said a young woman called him, a self-proclaimed longtime Haugen fan, and asked if he knew that Haugen voted to put sex offenders in his neighborhood and if that made him less likely to vote for her.

“It was so bad, it was funny,” Colburn said. “I don’t know why she called me.”

The woman also asked him similar questions about spending approved by the Legislature, taxes and the ferry system.

The woman continued to ask questions until Colburn interrupted her to ask if this was a “push poll.”

Push polls, an effective, but ugly political tactic, is disguised as an opinion poll. The caller will make several statements about the candidates in a race and ask if the information will change the caller’s vote. The difference from a legitimate poll is that statements about one candidate suggest negatives, while the opponent is talked up.

When Colburn questioned her, the woman ignored him.

“She would just pretend not to hear me,” Colburn said.

She then asked him if he knew that Haddon was widowed early in her life and went on to start a support group for widows and pushed other likable notions about Haddon.

The caller never said what organization she worked for or identified herself, Colburn added.

“It was certainly on her (Haddon’s) behalf, but likely not her campaign,” he said.

Haddon distanced herself from the push poll Monday.

“I am not aware this happened,” she said. “I am sorry if anybody was offended by it.”

However, she cautioned that more traditional polling may happen during the campaign.

“I imagine, all the different parties will do some polling,” Haddon said.

Colburn said the push poll phone calls won’t work on South Whidbey.

“Quite frankly, most people on the South End are pretty savvy with politics,” he said.

“They are desperate,” Colburn continued. “It’s not a good time to have an ‘R’ behind your name.”

Haugen is facing two opponents in the August primary, Oak Harbor Republican Haddon and America’s Third Party candidate Hart. The two candidates who earn the most votes in the primary will advance to the general election in November.

The push poll is the latest political attack on Haugen.

In recent months, Republicans have pointed fingers at her for the problems with the ferry system and even claimed she had spent state money to set up a campaign office on the island.

At a recent phone-in town hall meeting, the Leadership Council, a political action committee run by Senate Republicans, made the ferry system the focal point of an hourlong telephone town hall with Island County residents. Haugen supporters called it a set-up and some said they tried to call but didn’t get past call screeners.

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