After relentless (i.e. "oppressively constant, incessant") attack ads from Mitt Romney in Iowa, the Huckabee campaign decided it was time to fight back. After all, conventional campaign wisdom says that you must fight fire with fire.
Over the past week, the campaign began pointing out Romney's dishonesty in his words and ads -- making the point that someone who is dishonest as a candidate will likely be dishonest as president, too.
On Sunday the Governor took the afternoon to film an ad exposing Romney's past support for abortion and tax increases in Massachusetts -- and scheduled a press conference on Monday to unveil it to the media.
The ad was produced, at a cost of $30,000, and was sent out to Iowa television stations around the state. It was scheduled to air at noon, coinciding with the press conference.
But Huckabee, who has always run a positive campaign and emphasized optimism and "vertical" politics, made a tough and presidential decision -- pull the ad.
To some members of the media, the decision has been played as a stunt or a gaffe. But to those who have followed Mike Huckabee's campaign, it is just another confirmation of the firm convictions and principles that guide him.
For full details on the story, check out the following news pieces. First, a write-up from the Quad City Times in Iowa:
Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has yanked the television ad that would have been his first over-the-air attack on the record of his top rival, Mitt Romney.Then, another local article, from the Cedar Rapids Gazette:
Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, said he decided Monday not to air the ad because he didn’t want to further degrade a campaign that has already been overrun by Romney’s negative ads. The Huckabee ad had been delivered to Iowa television stations and was supposed to begin later that day, just four days before the caucuses.
“About an hour ago, I just decided that’s not the way we’re going to run things,” Huckabee said at a news conference that had been scheduled to promote the ad. He said some of his top aides didn’t know of the change of plan until moments before he walked onto the stage.
“If you gain the whole world, but lose your own soul, what does it profit you?” he said, paraphrasing the Gospel of Mark.
Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee delivered a political version of the "turn the other cheek" response today by pulling the plug a negative ad his campaign had prepared to counter attacks from GOP rival Mitt Romney, saying instead he will take the high-risk, high road strategy of staying positive in Iowa.And finally, this great piece from the Washington Post:
Huckabee did preview the 30-second television spot for a packed room of reporters, broadcasters and photographers at a Des Moines hotel as proof that his campaign had spent $30,000 to produce the spot and had distributed it to Iowa media outlets before the former Arkansas governor designed to abort the counter attack against Romney.
"It's a huge gamble on my part and we'll see how it works out," said Huckabee. "I'm taking a risk here, I know I am. I may be the last to ever do this but I'm going to be the first to try."
Huckabee said the paid commercial taking aim at Romney's record as former governor of Massachusetts was designed to counter negative ads by Romney and surrogate groups criticizing actions and positions Huckabee took during more than a decade as Arkansas governor — attacks that Huckabee claims are deceptive, untrue and a sign that Romney is desperate to slow the gains Huckabee has made in Iowa.
Huckabee conceded that the conventional political wisdom has to hit back at Romney — which he was preparing to do — but he decided he had built his support in Iowa by delivering a positive message and believes Iowa caucusgoers who have met him will see through the Romney attacks.
"I decided enough is enough," said Huckabee, who noted his campaign staff had lively discussions about which course to pursue and ultimately it was his decision to halt the planned negative counter attacks.
The original idea for the advertising campaign was his, says Rollins, who joined the campaign in December. Though not entirely comfortable with Rollins's approach, Huckabee certainly wasn't happy with what Romney was doing with his record.
"Anybody knows you can't have millions and millions of dollars spent against you -- particularly in Iowa -- without it having an impact," Rollins says. "I just said, 'I'm going to give you the best counsel I can. We're sliding back in the polls. We're still up, but we've lost ground and it's one of those things where people begin to question whether if you don't respond, 'Is it true?' "
This feeling ultimately led Huckabee -- with Rollins and others in tow -- back home to Little Rock on Sunday. The 30-second commercial was filmed in one day and shipped to stations across Iowa. Rollins loved the ad for the way Huckabee lashed out at Romney's own record on gun control and abortion.
Then came Huckabee's morning run on Monday back in Des Moines. His head cleared from exercise and prayer, he told Rollins and others he'd changed his mind about the whole thing. He wanted it stopped.
But there wasn't much time. One radio spot prepared in connection with the TV ads had aired early in the morning and a whole slew of them were set to start at noon. Television time had been purchased. Moreover, in order to get some related direct-mail pieces out in time, the campaign had used first-class stamps. Now, the campaign had to stop the truck set to deliver them to the post office.
"I told him, 'As far as I'm concerned, governor, it's your race. You've gotten this far. I've only been here two weeks,' " Rollins recalls. "But I also told him there's going to be a definite reaction, a cynicism from the press. You didn't have 100 reporters and 30 cameras sitting in a room because you're putting up a commercial. They think they're here to see Ed Rollins coming back to drop to the knees and fire at the groin of Mitt Romney."
Rollins says it had been his idea to show the ad to reporters, the logic being that it was already in the hands of television stations. As for the gathering, Rollins says, "Now would I have loved to cancel the press conference? You betcha. Would I have loved to pull the signs down? Yes. But this decision was made about 11, 11:10 in the morning." The news conference was scheduled for noon.
Riding in the elevator afterward, Rollins says, he told Huckabee, " 'Governor, this is what it means to be president. The president gets lots of advice and makes a lot of tough decisions . . . But you made the decision.' "
A couple of days before, at a Huckabee event at a community center in Perry, a 45-minute drive from here, Rollins explained his relationship with the candidate: "He's praying for me and I'll help him brawl. I'll help him brawl, absolutely. I would be irresponsible to a client if I didn't say, 'You've got to go negative, you've got to respond.' "
(Asked about the brawling comment, Huckabee said by e-mail, through a spokeswoman, "He is! And I'm teaching him how to turn the other cheek!")
"This is not me going down some reminiscent trail," Rollins says. "It's me seeing someone who's tapping into a populist dissatisfaction in this country as it was in '92, as it was in '80 with Reagan. I mean this with all sincerity. I told my wife last night that I've haven't had more fun or been more turned on by a candidate since Reagan. There's a sincerity there. He's smart. He's a young Reagan."