Rivals Romney and Thompson suggest Huckabee is just another Bill Clinton
By LIZ SIDOTI
Associated Press Writer
DAVENPORT, Iowa (AP) — To hear Mitt Romney tell it, Republican Mike Huckabee shares more with Democrat Bill Clinton than a hometown in Hope, Ark., and a stint as Arkansas governor.
Both men, Romney suggests, have left-leaning governing philosophies, particularly on taxes and spending.
“Governor Huckabee’s record is more liberal than our nation needs right now,” the former Massachusetts governor said in Iowa last week, seeking to link his GOP presidential rival to the former Democratic president who is loathed by many Republican loyalists.
Retorted Huckabee: “This nonsense about being a liberal is pure nonsense.”
Romney started giving Huckabee that brand — and implicitly linking him to Clinton — as polls started showing a tight race in the first state to speak in the GOP nomination fight. Romney had led in Iowa for months, but Huckabee’s recent rise here and elsewhere has prompted Romney to go after him.
The effort may be paying off. Polls show Huckabee’s double-digit lead dropping to single digits less than two weeks before the Jan. 3 caucuses.
Romney’s aides argue Huckabee’s record as governor undercuts his claim that he’s the only authentic conservative in the race. Romney himself has stopped short of explicitly saying his rival is simply another Clinton, though he’s less shy about it in campaign literature mailed to thousands of Iowa Republicans.
He wouldn’t bite this past week when pressed on whether Huckabee and Clinton were the same.
“They’re very different people, and obviously the area of concern relates to spending and taxation. We think of Bill Clinton as being a tax raiser and a spender,” Romney said — then mused that he had read somewhere that Huckabee had raised more taxes than Clinton when they were governors.
Asked whether Huckabee was more like him or Clinton, Romney sidestepped.
“I think you have to look issue by issue,” he said.
A day earlier, in Spartanburg, S.C., Romney assailed Huckabee as soft on crime, and then suggested he was even more of a liberal than Clinton on the issue.
“Now in the case of Governor Huckabee, he also faced a number of individuals coming forward for pardons and commutations and he gave out 1,033, even more than the prior three governors combined — and one of those prior governors was Bill Clinton,” Romney said.
He’s far more direct in literature mailed by his campaign.
“The Audacity of Hope” one mailer says, a play on the hometown Huckabee and Clinton share — as well as a book written by Democrat Barack Obama. “Two former governors from Hope. One was president. One wants to be.”
It then asks a series of questions, including which governor “raised taxes by $880 million to pay for 8,000 new bureaucrats,” and “supported amnesty for illegal immigrants.” The mailer says Huckabee is the answer to all.
Looking to break out in Iowa, former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson also has distributed his own literature plastered with pictures of Huckabee and Clinton.
“Mike Huckabee wants to hide the fact that he and Bill Clinton share a D lifetime rating for their tax & spend policies,” it says, referencing the Cato Institute’s scorecard for governors. It also adds: “Mike Huckabee talks like a Republican but taxes like a Democrat.”
Huckabee, for his part, is seeking to inoculate himself against such comparisons and turn a vulnerability into an asset. He counters Clinton comparisons with a ready, though exaggerated, response at just about every campaign event.
“I’m the only person running for president who has actually run against the Bill and Hillary Clinton machine, and I didn’t just run against it. I beat it four times in Arkansas,” Huckabee says now as part of his standard pitch. “They campaigned against me every time. They raised money for every opponent I ever had.”
“Against the headwinds of their machine, I not only won the election every time — I didn’t just win it one time and say oh I won’t do that again — I kept going up against them and kept winning, and by the largest margins that any Republican had ever won,” Huckabee said.
The line always draws applause — but it’s a stretch.
Huckabee never ran against either Clinton for elected office. They moved to Washington after Bill Clinton won the presidency in 1992 — four years before Huckabee, then lieutenant governor, assumed the state’s top job when Democratic Gov. Jim Guy Tucker resigned after his conviction in the Whitewater investigation.
The Clintons did support Huckabee’s opponents and raised money for them, and they still had a lot of connections and supporters in Arkansas after leaving the state. But they had little to do with politics in the state after they left and hardly controlled a political machine.
These days, Huckabee preemptively uses the Clinton line not only to try to distance himself from comparisons but also to argue that he’s more likely than other Republicans to beat Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Huckabee didn’t appear to sway Dan Bunnell who told him recently at an event in Newton, Iowa, that he was concerned Huckabee was “too nice” to go up against the Clintons.
The 63-year-old from Grinnell expects Hillary Clinton to be the Democratic nominee and says he’s leaning toward Rudy Giuliani, whom he called a street fighter.
“The Clintons run an awfully rough campaign. I’m troubled by the fact, I guess, that Huckabee is a nice guy,” Bunnell said, noting that Huckabee is an ordained Southern Baptist minister. “I’m looking for somebody that rather than turning the other cheek, is going to haul back and punch him right in the face.”
Published in The Messenger 12.26.07
Bill Clinton, Fred Thompson, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney