U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin's Senate campaign fired off a tersely worded letter to rival Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele yesterday, demanding an end to "offensive push-poll" phone calls from a conservative group that equates Cardin's support for embryonic stem cell research to "medical experiments on unborn babies."
"While it's true that you and I have a fundamental difference on embryonic stem cell research, this sort of gutter politics must stop now," Cardin said in the letter.
Steele, who is challenging Cardin in the Senate race, is opposed to embryonic stem cell research.
Steele spokesman Doug Heye responded: "The Steele campaign has absolutely nothing to do whatsoever with these phone calls. These are the kind of politics that Michael Steele is running to change."
The telephone poll asks if voters approve of "medical experiments on unborn babies," and then says "Cardin supports funding for embryonic stem cell research, which Steele opposes," according to the Cardin campaign.
According to the calls, the poll is sponsored by an organization called Common Sense Maryland. The group's Web site said the efforts are being paid for by another organization, Common Sense Ohio.
The Common Sense Maryland Web site says Cardin has opposed tax relief, traditional marriage and stronger immigration laws and supports abortion.
The poll also asks if voters want "taxes raised or lowered" and then mentions "Cardin has voted for tax increases," the Cardin campaign said.
A telephone number with a Northern Virginia area code that appeared on the Caller IDs of some who received the calls appeared to be disconnected yesterday.
Some voters have charged that the group's name was misleading and possibly intended to confuse voters into thinking the calls were coming from Common Cause Maryland, a nonpartisan campaign-finance watchdog group.
Bobbie Walton, Common Cause's executive director, said she received calls and e-mail from a handful of concerned voters.
Though Walton said she doesn't think the name was intentionally meant to confuse voters, she said the group's tactics are "reprehensible."
Democrat Tony Langbehn of Bowie, a Cardin supporter, said he received a call Tuesday afternoon and was appalled when the recorded male voice asked if he would vote for someone who wanted to remove the words "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance.
"It's pretty awful that they might be using that as a smear tactic," Langbehn said. "Because it wouldn't be true either. That upset me more because I'm a pretty religious person."