Hardball tactics mark GOP primary

Jan. 18, 2008 at 2:24 PM

COLUMBIA, S.C., Jan. 18 (UPI) -- Accusations and rebuttals escalated sharply as Republican presidential candidates campaigned for Saturday's GOP primary in South Carolina.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., launched a "Truth Squad" after being accused of distorting his military record while former Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., charged rival Mike Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor, with deceiving voters about Thompson's positions on certain issues, the Chicago Tribune reported Friday.

The campaign of former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts said it received hundreds of calls from voters complaining about anti-Romney "push polls," a method of smearing candidates while purporting to sample opinion.

"It's kind of like the silly season has set in," Warren Tompkins, a top South Carolina political consultant, told the Tribune.

Ugly tactics are a tradition in the Palmetto State, said Southern politics specialist Cole Blease Graham of the University of South Carolina at Columbia.

"Usually, it's in the run-up, maybe the last 72 hours," Graham told the Tribune. "You can even let loose some smears on yourself if it suits your purpose."

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