BY O.J. EARLY
As the political clock ticks closer to the November election, "push polling" by an undetermined source has made an appearance locally.
A fairly common occurrence around election time, "push polling" is a form of political activity involving telephone calls that begin in an apparently neutral way by asking a person's political preference -- then "pushing" negative information about a particular candidate if the person called indicates support for that candidate.
Calls of this nature have made their way into the 5th District State House of Representatives race, targeting incumbent State Rep. David Hawk, R-5th, of Greeneville.
Hawk, a Republican, is running against former state Rep. Eddie Yokley, a Greene County Democrat, in the Nov. 6 election.
Although Yokley could not be reached for comment, he has publicly denied involvement with any "push poll" calls or similar activity.
In addition, the Tennessee Democratic Party has no involvement with the current "push poll" calls here, the party's communication director said Friday afternoon.
"I can say with confidence that it's not the Tennessee Democratic Party," said Brandon Puttbrese, in a telephone interview with The Greeneville Sun.
Based on research by the Sun, dozens, possibly hundreds, of county residents have been contacted over at least the last three weeks.
The people called of whom the Sun has become aware seem to be mostly supporters of incumbent Hawk.
The nature of the calls, it seems, is not illegal , and, as of this morning, the Sun had been unable to determine who, or what organization, had paid for the "push poll" telephone calls.
NATURE OF THE CALLS
Based on interviews by the Sun, here is the nature of the calls:
A caller from Mountain West Research, a polling organization based in Idaho, begins by asking a respondent several general political questions, such as: Are you registered to vote? Are you going to vote in the November election? Will you be voting in the races for the district you live in?
At that point, the caller directly asks a respondent ihe or she plans to vote for Hawk or Yokely in the 5th District race.
If the person answers Hawk, the caller will then ask the respondent if he or she is aware that Hawk has been charged with domestic assault, and that his case has been bound over to a grand jury.
Based on Sun research, at no point does the caller say anything that is actually untrue about Hawk.
'CALLED FIVE TIMES'
Chuckey resident John Haynes got a call about two weeks ago.
"They've called here like five times," said Haynes, who only answered the last time the polling firm called.
Haynes said he was initially undecided about the race but now supports Hawk as a result of the call. The tactics are an example of dirty politics, according to Haynes.
Wilma Crawford, a resident of the Pine Grove community, said she got a call roughly three weeks ago.
She described the beginning of the call as very "calm," noting that the caller asked if she was planning to vote in the upcoming election.
But when Crawford said she was planning to vote for Hawk, the caller began presenting negative information about Hawk.
"I didn't appreciate it," Crawford said late Friday afternoon. "That's his personal life, and it's not any of your business or mine either," she said she told the caller.
In addition, Wayne Bettis, former county GOP chairman, reported getting a call. Bettis lives in the Camp Creek community.
"I have no idea who is placing these calls," Hawk said Friday afternoon in a telephone interview with the Sun. "They are obviously a despicable person or a despicable organization."
Hawk contacted the Sun about the calls on Friday morning.
"My preference is to simply ignore these calls," he said. "My focus is going to be on continuing my work to help Greene County."