MINOT, N.D. — A messaging poll, or what a lot of people refer to as a "push poll," is a survey usually aimed at choosing which line of political attack in a given campaign might work best.
Those surveyed are asked for their feelings about a series of criticisms of a candidate. The criticisms which poll best usually end up getting used in another campaign's marketing.
These polls are used as a tactic to influence public opinion.
Something like that is happening in the District 8 legislative race. According to multiple reports I've received, pollsters identifying themselves as working for a company called Opinion Research Group have been calling people in District 8 and quizzing them about what they allege are nasty facts about Rep. Jeff Delzer.
Among the people who got the call?
First, some background.
Delzer is a long-time lawmaker and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and probably one of the most powerful politicians in North Dakota you've never heard of. He is perpetually at the center of North Dakota's budget disputes.
But he has drawn the ire of his fellow Republicans, in recent years, on multiple fronts.
He was the instigator of a move to sideline Governor Doug Burgum's executive budget in the 2019 session. His approach to implementing fiscally conservative budgets, which amounts to hiding money in the budget so it won't be spent, has also frustrated many.
Including this observer. I'd rather our state be fiscally conservative through disciplined spending practices. Not accounting gimmicks.
Delzer is running for re-election in 2020, but he's facing some opposition from other Republicans. The other District 8 House incumbent, Vernon Laning, has opted not to run for another term. Two challengers - Dave Nehring and David Andahl - have announced campaigns in cooperation with each other setting up a three-way race for two House seats.
That's the situation the aforementioned polling is taking place in.
"A push poll went out last night in District 8, to what appears to be, all the delegates registered for the nominating convention," a reader told me earlier this week.
The District 8 NDGOP has its convention scheduled for March 10.
The reader continued: "Content included, 'Did you know that Delzer refuses to invest in N.D. to diversify the states industry/economy in areas like technology, manufacturing and energy?'"
Other questions were:
- Did you know Delzer increased his salary
- Did you know Delzer refuses to listen and follow the recommendations of the Governor
- Did you know Delzer wastes the State's money
- Did you know he sends people and himself to meetings and they stay at the Ritz
"I got the call," Howard Anderson, the Senate incumbent in District 8 (who is not facing a challenger), told me when I called him. "They're apparently calling Republicans in District 8."
He's the one who tipped me to the fact that Rep. Jeff Delzer also received a call.
"I'm extremely disappointed that someone would say things that are misrepresentations of my time as a legislature," Delzer told me when I called him.
He said the caller surveying Jeff Delzer was surprised to be talking to Jeff Delzer himself. Despite this, Delzer finished the call, "just to hear what they were asking."
"I have no clue," Delzer said when I asked him who might be behind the calls.
I spoke with Nehring, asking if he and Andahl were behind the calls. "Neither my campaign or Andahl's campaign are conducting any poll in the district," he told me.
Given the friction between Delzer and the executive branch, I thought Gov. Doug Burgum's campaign might be behind the calls.
"No, we're not," Burgum campaign spokesman Mike Schrimpf told me.
Where are these calls coming from? Someone is. These surveys, even focused tightly on a legislative district, are not cheap to make. They don't just happen.
We might find an answer at some point in yet-to-be-filed campaign disclosures.
Until then, suffice it to say some dirty tricks are going on in District 8.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at email@example.com.