Election 2008

Romney Runs Negative Ads Against Huckabee

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In the fight for first place in Iowa, Romney has been throwing some right hooks. Last week, he aired an ad accusing the former Arkansas governor of being soft on illegal aliens, and now his ads charge that Huckabee is lenient on crime.

In the race for the Republican nomination, those are fighting words.

On Tuesday, Huckabee shot back with a cheerful holiday ad with "Silent Night" playing in the background.

Now there's a trick: You get ahead in the polls, and then you declare Christmas!

Bill Hillsman, the award-winning ad man for insurgent candidates like Jesse Ventura and Kinky Friedman, says the ad will stand out from what he calls the "noise" of other political ads. It's a pre-emptive strike against anybody who tries to take Huckabee down.

But the Romney campaign says it doesn't see any reason for a holiday truce. Ben Ginsberg is a senior adviser to Romney.

"We will be respectful of the holiday season. But I think Iowa voters have told us that it's important to discuss the issues," Ginsberg said.

Even though Huckabee is playing "Silent Night" on television, it doesn't mean he's pure sweetness and light. When we caught up with him by phone, Huckabee had much to say about Romney.

"When some folks are thinking of Christmas as peace on earth and good will toward men, some people just can't turn it off long enough to take a ball peen hammer and go after the knee caps of their political rivals," Huckabee said.

Huckabee says that Romney's ads are misleading; he says penalties for methamphetamines were harsher in Arkansas than in Massachusetts. Huckabee also said he presided over 16 executions when he was governor — something Romney never had to do in a state without the death penalty. Still, Huckabee get criticism from some in the state who thought that the Baptist preacher was too quick to grant clemency to inmates who had found Jesus.

But Huckabee doesn't apologize for his religiosity; he didn't as governor, and he certainly doesn't as a candidate for president.

"It never occurred to me that I had to respect everybody else's religion and had to deny my own. It made no sense to me, and it doesn't now," he said.

As if to underscore that point, Huckabee's new ad dispenses with the more generic language of "Seasons Greetings" or "Happy Holidays." He locks his gaze on the camera, and speaks plainly about the importance of celebrating the birth of Christ.

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