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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

And we'll begin this hour in Iowa where the presidential campaigns are down to the wire in their efforts to win Thursday's caucuses.

Today, Republican hopeful Mike Huckabee pledged not to respond to attack ads in kind. Although, he did find a way to air an attack ad of his own.

NPR's Don Gonyea was there in Des Moines. He joins us now. And Don, tell us about this pledge today from Mike Huckabee.

DON GONYEA: Well, first let me tell you what we expected when we walked into this press conference. We were told that it was going to be Governor Huckabee responding directly to the attacks that have been on television and in direct mailing leveled against him by the Mitt Romney campaign.

Romney and Huckabee, of course, are battling for victory in Iowa this week in the caucuses. It's very fierce, it's very close. And we also expected Governor Huckabee to unveil his own attack ad against Romney, but when Huckabee stood at the microphone, he said this isn't the press conference I expected to give. He said that 10 minutes ago, he just decided that it was wrong to go on the attack, that it was too divisive, that he wanted to maintain a positive campaign. He was going to talk about himself and be upbeat but not tear anybody else down.

Now, he explains that here, but he listen to a turn he take as he talks.

Mr. MIKE HUCKABEE (Former Republican Governor, Arkansas; Presidential Candidate): From through the rest of the caucuses, that we will run only the ads that talk about why I should be president and not why Mitt Romney should not. I know that some of you are saying that well, did you really have an ad? I'm going to show you the ad. You'll get a chance to find out exactly what we're doing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HUCKABEE: No, I want you to see it.

BLOCK: Okay, so here's Mike Huckabee saying, okay, I'm not going to air these ads, but I'm not going to play it for all you reporters anyway.

GONYEA: Exactly. And he proceeded to play this attack ad for us.

(Soundbite of campaign ad)

Mr. HUCKABEE: I approved this message because Iowans have a right to know the truth about Mitt Romney's dishonest attacks on me and even an American hero, John McCain.

GONYEA: And, Melissa, you kind of hear the laughter in the room. They're playing this ad in one of those giant projection screens for all of us to see. Dozen of cameras, the national media, TV, radio, newspaper, everybody there. So this ad is clearly getting out there. And it was very a bizarre moment.

BLOCK: You wouldn't have to be too cynical to say Mike Huckabee is having it both ways here. First question was, Governor, isn't this hypocritical? You say you're taking the high road, that you're not going to go negative, but here you are playing this ad for all of us.

Here's Huckabee's answer.

Mr. HUCKABEE: Well, by the same token, if I came and said, we were going to run an ad but we're not going to run an ad, you'd say where's the ad? So I want to show you, we were fully prepared. Frankly, you can call the television stations and find out that this was in their traffic. You can also find out that we pulled it this morning. And so, you know, if people want to be cynical about it, they can be cynical about it.

BLOCK: Well, Don, what was the reaction from former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney to all of these?

GONYEA: They quickly sent out e-mails to all of us essentially saying this is just kind of, you know, ludicrous, this Huckabee press conference and, again, the Romney campaign's spin on it is that this represents a Huckabee meltdown; further evidence that he's not ready to be president.

BLOCK: Okay. NPR's Don Gonyea in Des Moines.

Don, thanks very much.

GONYEA: A pleasure.

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