After wishing Iowans a Merry Christmas in a religious holiday TV ad that prompted much discussion, GOP presidential hopeful and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee spent Dec. 26 with friends and campaign staffers hunting pheasant in Osceola, Iowa.
“Maybe it will show that I certainly understand the culture of being outdoors,” the candidate told reporters, according to the Associated Press.
Huckabee joked that three targeted fowl said they wouldn’t vote for him on caucus day, and that pheasant hunting “proved that you can shoot, and if someone really messes with you with negative campaign ads, they just need to be prepared.”
Some see the latter comment as a shot, pun possibly intended, at GOP rival and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who recently released a campaign ad in Iowa aimed at knocking down the surging Huckabee. The latest Romney volley comes as a new Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times survey has Huckabee opening up a significant lead (37 percent) over Romney (23 percent).
The ad outlines Huckabee’s time as governor and compares his record to Romney’s, saying Huckabee made “1,033 pardons and commutations” as governor and made reductions on methamphetamine punishments.
Although Huckabee’s campaign has tried to brush off the criticism, the ad is part of a new scrutiny his success has brought to his gubernatorial record.
“One element in particular is the high number of prison-sentence commutations and pardons that Mr. Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister, granted during his decade in office — more than a thousand, or twice those of the previous three governors combined,” the Wall Street Journal reported. “The clemency decisions go to the heart of Mr. Huckabee’s message: part Christian moral conservatism, part liberal-leaning social conscience.”
While Huckabee is the target of Romney’s Iowa ad, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. is taking fire from a Romney ad in New Hampshire that accuses the senator of voting to “let every illegal immigrant stay here permanently.”
The attacks on McCain and Huckabee have made them surprising allies.
“While Huckabee and McCain have repeatedly criticized Romney, they have showered each other with affection,” the Boston Globe reported. “McCain has lauded Huckabee as ‘a man of integrity, honesty, and decency.’ And Huckabee has praised McCain as ‘a true, honest-to-God American hero.’”
Although Romney’s attack on McCain is centered on immigration, Huckabee has been beefing up his immigration stance and recently linked border security in the United States to the tragic events in Pakistan Thursday.
In a speech in Pella, Iowa, Huckabee told voters that former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s assassination has made him more aware of the threat of terrorism.
“The way that it affects them is we need to understand that violence and terror is significant when it happens in Pakistan,” he said, according to the Des Moines Register. “It’s more significant when it could happen in our own cities. It happens if people could slip across our border, and we have no control over it.”
“The immigration issue is not about people coming to pick lettuce or make beds,” Huckabee continued. “It’s about people who come with a shoulder-fired missile and could do serious damage and harm to us. The unsecured borders that we have pose a real national security threat.”
But the Bhutto killing also evoked another foreign policy gaffe from the governor.
Campaigning in Florida, Huckabee said the United States should be “trying to ascertain who’s behind it, and what impact does it have on whether or not there’s going to be martial law continued in Pakistan.” Analysts and opponents were quick to jump on the fact that Pakistan’s president had ended emergency rule two weeks earlier.
But in a sign of the growing panache of the Huckabee campaign, within hours of the statement, campaign spokeswoman Kirsten Fedewa has a statement of saying, in part, “Governor Huckabee firmly believes that emergency rule/martial law in Pakistan, as a practical matter, should not be viewed as having been completely lifted until the restrictions imposed during that period on the press and judges are removed. Although General Musharraf let the pendulum swing a little more freely in the last few weeks, the overall policy, which is what the Governor was addressing in his earlier comments, has been, and continues to be, repressive.”