Good morning from Des Moines, where the Republican candidates meet this afternoon in the Des Moines Register debate, the most important event remaining before the January 3 caucuses. Doing some in-depth investigative hotel-room reporting this morning, I saw back-to-back commercial breaks on CBS-affiliate KCCI which included Barack Obama’s “Moment” ad and Mitt Romney’s anti-Huckabee ad. What a huge contrast. Obama looked very big – it’s a very effective ad. Romney, not so much.
I met last night with some people from the Huckabee campaign. Like Huckabee himself, they seem unconcerned by the attacks on Huckabee, as well as by Huckabee’s mistakes. Has he mis-handled the Wayne Dumond thing? Well, he’s almost never asked about it on the campaign trail here in Iowa, so it must not be a big thing with voters. Has he played the religious issue too hard? No. (At the time we talked, I hadn’t yet heard of Huckabee’s statement, to the New York Times, “Don’t Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?” This morning, Huckabee is arguing that the remark was taken out of context, but it’s hard to see it as anything other than an astonishingly bad thing to say.) What about immigration? Huckabee gets asked about that a lot, and he had planned to spend all day yesterday campaigning with Jim Gilchrist, the founder of the Minutemen who endorsed Huckabee. The ice storm here messed up those plans, although Huckabee and Gilchrist did manage to hold one impromptu press conference.
Another thing political types are talking about is the stream of anti-Huckabee attacks on the Drudge Report. Everyone believes the source of the attacks is the Romney campaign – Jonathan Martin of the Politico wrote yesterday that the headline “Dems Hold Fire On Huckabee; See ‘Easy Kill’ In General Election,” which was bannered across the top of the Drudge Report yesterday, “smacks of Mitt desperation to the political class who know where Drudge is getting his dirt, but the other 99 percent of Americans who click on the site are only reading negative information about Huck. And it’s now happening on a near-daily basis.” Last night a Huckabee aide told me, of Romney, “He’s attacking with TV ads, radio, print, web – if he finds a way to attack by carrier pigeon, he’ll do that, too.”
Romney did a brief interview with the Atlantic Monthly yesterday and delivered an impromptu “contrast” ad with Huckabee. He focused on illegal immigration and taxes, but he also mentioned Huckabee’s record on executive clemency. He pointed out that Huckabee used that power more than 1,000 times in Arkansas, while Romney, in Massachusetts, used it exactly…0 times. If Huckabee went too far in the direction of clemency, you have to wonder why Romney chose to forgo absolutely a power that, on a national basis, the Founders believed the president should have, and that, on a state basis, most governors have. Was there no case in Massachusetts that called for clemency of some sort during Romney’s time as governor?
The National Review endorsement of Romney is news here, too. A lot of people are surprised – not that the editors endorsed Romney specifically, but that they chose to endorse anyone. It will be interesting to see if it comes up in today’s debate.