GREENFIELD — State Sen. Beverly Gard says she funded a political survey in the spring many considered a push poll.
While the polling affected Republican candidates in the three-way race for the GOP nomination for State Senate District 28, the issue is coming to the forefront again as Democratic candidate Michael Adkins takes on the retiring senator on several issues in her tenure.
A push poll is a political technique used to persuade large numbers of voters away from a candidate by using innuendo or misleading information.
In March, Republican candidate Chris Lytle says the poll used statements he had made in his career with the Ultimate Fighting Championship against him.
Republican Mike Crider, who Gard endorsed as her successor, won the GOP nomination and is now facing Adkins for Gard’s open seat on the state senate.
Gard said she paid for a poll in the spring to survey 300 voters in the district, but she does not consider it a push poll.
The sample was too small, she says, and the purpose of the poll was to glean information about how voters will react to the candidates. That especially rang true with Lytle, she said, because he is well known with the UFC.
“I paid for a poll, and it will show up on a campaign report that will be out in January,” Gard said. “It was not for Crider; it dealt with the senate race because whatever one of those three candidates won, we needed to know because there were plusses and minuses about all of them. We needed to know how we would approach various issues out there.”
But back in March, Gard would not confirm or deny knowledge of the poll.
Gard is also the chairwoman of the Indiana Senate Majority Campaign Committee, but said the expenditure for the poll will appear in her own campaign financial report. She does not know the cost of the poll.
Last week, Adkins raised the issue of the poll again. He said in a debate that a statement on Facebook linked Crider to the poll. But Crider says he’s a political novice, and had no knowledge of the poll.
“She can call it whatever she wants,” Adkins said of Gard. “I know people said what they received was a push poll.”
Adkins said he thought it was important to bring up the issue at the debate because of a tiff he’d had with Gard over another political issue.
Adkins had written a letter to the Daily Reporter claiming a new law allows the governor to pull Hoosiers out of Medicare. Gard replied with a letter accusing Adkins of blatantly distorting facts to “scare senior citizens” to get their vote. She said House Bill 1169 does not allow the governor to pull Medicare.
Adkins admitted he was wrong in his letter at the debate, but went on to bring up the push poll issue.
“Bev Gard accused me of making false statements to seniors, and I thought she was making a false statement that she would neither admit or deny to a push poll,” Adkins said. “What I did was not to intentionally mislead anybody, but I wanted to make sure on the other side of the coin she was not trying to mislead people.”
But even though Adkins acknowledges he was wrong on the Medicare issue, he went on to raise the issue in mail and cable TV commercials.
Gard wonders who Adkins is running against – Crider or herself. While Gard is retiring from the Legislature, she is a campaign adviser to Crider. Adkins has accused Crider of being nothing more than a “puppet” to Gard and the GOP.
“It’s desperation,” Gard said of Adkins’ campaign strategy.
She said calling Crider a puppet is an insult. Crider is a former governor-appointed director for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, and Gard says he got that role by being a strong manager.
“If I wanted to still affect state policy, I would have run again,” Gard said. “I’m retired. I don’t want to tell (Crider) how to vote. I’m moving on.”
Meanwhile, Crider says the whole push poll issue is “water under the bridge now.”
He said it was “pretty low” of Adkins to bring it up at the debate. He has since talked to Lytle and stressed that he had nothing to do with the poll.
Indeed, Lytle said Monday he believed Crider didn’t initiate the poll. Lytle, who came in second in the three-way race in the spring, is now supporting Crider.
Lytle believed Gard was behind the polling all along, especially because a similar poll was done in 2011 targeting then-Mayor Brad DeReamer when Gard was Mayor Dick Pasco’s campaign manager.
Gard said in March that last year’s campaign for Pasco used telephone polling, but she insists it also wasn’t push polling. She says push polling uses lies or undocumented statements, and all of the statements used in the telephone polling for the mayoral race were documented.
With two weeks left in the campaign for the state senate seat, Crider is still campaigning door-to-door and is hoping his name is not associated with the controversial polling method.
“I wish she hadn’t done it … in that people assumed I had done it,” Crider said. “It still bothers me that people think I would do that. I don’t think it was necessary.”