The Republicans are calling it "negative push polling." Democrats say it's "persuasive voter identity polling" and GOP candidates have done it before in Utah.

Either way, it is the use of the latest in telephone marketing techniques to identify voters — those who are already with your candidate, those who could be persuaded to vote for your candidate, and those who have "made up their minds and who you don't want to waste money on calling again" — as Utah Democratic Party executive director Todd Taylor puts it.

Democrats are making the calls into several Utah House and Senate districts where they believe they have a chance of winning this year. Several thousand Sandy residents are reportedly getting calls from both sides of a close race between House Speaker Greg Curtis, R-Sandy, and his Democratic challenger, Jay Seegmiller.

Curtis beat Seegmiller by just 20 votes in 2006, and Democrats and Republicans are clearly targeting the House District 49 contest this year.

Democrats "are negative push polling against me," said Curtis on Tuesday.

Taylor says Democrats are not engaged in push polling — a process where thousands and thousands of residents are called and hear unpleasant, and sometimes untrue, comments about political opponents.

But Democrats are conducting an "admittedly slanted" voter identification poll in a number of legislative districts, said Taylor. "And anyway, Curtis or his supporters are doing the same thing," charged Taylor, a charge denied by Chris Bleak, House chief of staff and Curtis' top political aide, and Salt Lake County GOP chairman James Evans.

"We haven't heard about any push polling by Republicans, and the speaker would be furious if it was being done in his district without his knowledge," said Bleak. Evans said: "Republicans are not doing any push polling. Why would we? We're ahead. You push poll when you're behind. Where is the evidence" that Republicans are push polling? "Give us some names who have been called. The Democrats are just trying to cover themselves because so many people are angry over this."

"We aren't doing anything we haven't done before" in previous election years, and that GOP officeholders haven't done before, either, said Taylor. "And it is not negative push polling."

Besides how one defines such polling, the technology has progressed so far and fast that "persuasive voter identification polling" may be here to stay.

Taylor says his party is conducting such polling "all over the state." Bleak says he's heard that it is targeted to several south Salt Lake County state House and Senate districts — places both parties see as legislative battlegrounds.

One such fight is in Curtis' District 49. "On the East Bench of the county, my district is the last one held by a Republican. Go north and all the House seats are held by Democrats" along the bench, Curtis noted Tuesday. "I'm now the front line" defense against Democratic legislative encroachment, he added.

Taylor provide a script for the Democratic telephone calling in District 49. (Click on Polling questionnaire.)

When a person picks up the phone, the caller "immediately" identifies herself as calling for the Utah Democratic Party. "And in the caller I.D. it gives our number," said Taylor, so there is nothing sneaky or underhanded about the calls.

The caller asks several generic questions — the same for all Salt Lake County calls, for example. "We ask who the person would vote for in the county mayor's race — Mayor Peter Corroon or his Republican challenger. We ask if they plan to vote for Jay Seegmiller or Greg Curtis" in District 49.

But then, depending on the legislative district, comes the "admittedly slanted" part of the question. In District 49, the caller asks whether it makes any difference to them whether Seegmiller supports legislative campaign and ethics reform and that Curtis has said that conflicts of interests by legislators are inevitable.

"That is a direct quote from Curtis, we research very carefully all we say — the question is slanted slightly," said Taylor and designed to be so. (Curtis says he supports various kinds of legislative reform and has so voted in the past.)

Taylor added: "Like all these voter I.D. calls that candidates do, we want to find out who can be persuaded" to vote for a certain candidate. "There's been polls out there" in District 49 against Seegmiller "that say something like does it make a difference to them whether Jay is for abortion on demand and for gay marriage — both things, by the way, that Jay doesn't support," said Taylor.

Bleak said Curtis has not been doing "I.D." polling for months. He did "I.D." polling earlier this summer, "but the speaker did not mention Seegmiller's name — he asked questions like did they know that he supported spending $1.4 billion more for public education," said Bleak.

Taylor said only about 15 percent of voters know their elected House or Senate member or the opposing party candidates — and "persuasive voter I.D." calls can really help in both getting the voter to know the candidates (for positive or negative, depending on who's making the calls) and in seeing who should get a call back later — perhaps by the candidate himself — to close the deal on whom the resident will vote for.


E-mail: bbjr@desnews.com