The Campaign Spot

Why Did Huck’s Negative Ad Include Such a Silly Charge? (UPDATED)

Adding to the theory that the Huckabee’s negative ad was never meant to run: It knocked Mitt Romney for “no executions.” Of course, Massachusetts doesn’t have the death penalty. I suppose Romney could have just gone out and killed somebody – I understand the opposition party in that state is big on leaving people in cars underwater. But it seems unfair to suggest that Romney was somehow soft on crime because his state never legalized the death penalty. (Others would find other supporting arguments for that assertion.)

Had that ad run, the silliness of that line of attack probably would have dominated the final 48 hours of the campaign, and Huckabee, or someone around him must have known that the discussion would not go well for them.
(Governor Pataki restored the death penalty in New York State in 1995, but that state has not executed anyone since 1976; I don’t think anyone would contend that New York’s disinterest in that option suggests that Rudy Giuliani is soft on crime.)
UPDATE: Interesting information from another campaign that does not have a dog in the fight of Iowa, or not a particularly large one, at least.
First, they note a August 21, 2002 article in the Boston Herald that declared, “Republican Mitt Romney and running mate Kerry Healey rolled out a crime-fighting plan yesterday that would … reinstate the death penalty.”
Then they note an April 29, 2005 Boston Globe article: “Governor Mitt Romney yesterday filed a long-awaited bill to reinstate the death penalty in Massachusetts for deadly acts of terrorism, killing sprees, murders involving torture, and the killing of law enforcement authorities. The bill, which Romney called ‘a model for the nation’ and the ‘gold standard’ for capital punishment legislation, draws entirely from the findings of a special commission that set out 10 recommendations last year. That panel sought to design a virtually ‘foolproof’ death penalty law by relying on verifiable science and tougher legal safeguards.”


Then a Globe article from December 16 of that year, noting, “Even on reinstating the death penalty, a hot-button issue on which polls have indicated that Romney had popular support, the governor lost a vote in the house by nearly 2 to 1. Eight years earlier, a capital punishment bill failed on a tie vote.”
This rival campaign makes a more compelling argument against Romney than Huckabee’s ad did. The ad just lamented “no executions”, not, “he failed to pass the death penalty in Massachusetts.”
Ironically, the Romney camp e-mails in to cite the same information. Again, if Romney had been campaigning on his support of the death penalty, this criticism would carry some weight. As it is, I figure the lack of executions in Massachusetts from 2002 to 2006 has to rank pretty low on the list of reasons to vote for or against him.
YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Ace thinks the analysis is “non-astute,” as “given that many in Iowa seem impressed by the Huckster’s ‘elevating the tone’ by not going through with the ad buy.”
True enough, but let me point two things out – one, as I’ll explore in an NRO piece in the near future, Iowa has this bizarrely selective antipathy to negative campaigning – they prefer it, “Iowa nice” — even though the “murder suicide” effect suggests that voters actually conclude that the content of negative ads worth considering when deciding who to support. For example, if voters were really offended by Gephardt’s criticism of Dean, they would only turn away from Gephardt, not both Gephardt and Dean.
Second, if you’re going to go negative, at least go negative on something meaty – say, any one of the YouTube moments from 2002 or 1994 that are haunting the Romney campaign. Hitting a guy for not executing anyone when his state doesn’t have the death penalty seems like a wild, flailing and off-base criticism… I think Iowans would have said, “boy, it’s not just that he’s going negative… it’s that he’s going lame negative.”

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