Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee on Wednesday disavowed the use of a negative campaign tactic known as "push polling" being used on his behalf by an independent group ahead of the South Carolina primary.
Huckabee said he disagreed with the automated phone calls purporting to be part of a survey that instead disparage rival candidates. The "push polling" calls were being made by Colorado-based Common Sense Issues in support of the Huckabee campaign.
"We don't know who these people are," the former Arkansas governor told NPR's Morning Edition. "I personally wish all of this were outlawed. I think that every candidate ought to speak for himself."
When pressed, Huckabee said it was impossible to stop the practice because it is against the law for a campaign to have contact with the groups responsible.
"Candidates can't force these ... special interest groups to stop," he said. "I wish we could, because frankly, they're not doing me a favor by carrying out things and tactics that I don't personally agree with."
Common Sense Issues promised last month to make 1 million phone calls in South Carolina in support of Huckabee. The group's executive director, Patrick Davis, said Tuesday that the calls started about 5 p.m. from a call center in Virginia and should be completed sometime Thursday.
South Carolina law prohibits automated calls for political purposes with a penalty of 30 days in jail and a $200 fine for each violation. Common Sense Issues has defended the calls as free speech and said they are protected under federal law.
Huckabee, who managed only a third-place finish in Michigan's primary on Tuesday, said he was outspent "fifty to one" by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the state. Huckabee predicted he would come out ahead of the field in South Carolina on Jan. 19, but insisted he did not "have to win" the state.
"(But) if we do, it puts us in a very strong position going into Super Tuesday," he said, referring to the primary elections in 22 states on Feb. 5.
In Florida's Jan. 29 primary, polls show the race narrowing to a dead-heat among former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Arizona Sen. John McCain, Huckabee and Romney.
With additional reporting from The Associated Press