By Chris Cillizza and Dan Balz
washingtonpost.com Staff Reporter and Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 9, 2007 12:03 PM
Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee warned Thursday that nominating Mitt Romney would leave the party vulnerable to Democratic charges of flip-flopping that could endanger GOP chances of winning the White House in 2008.
Huckabee said he does not doubt the authenticity of the former Massachusetts governor's conversion on social issues, most notably abortion. "I'm just going to assume that if says he's solidly pro-life now, he is," he said.
But during an interview for washingtonpost.com's PostTalk program, Huckabee said that will not stop Democrats from going after Romney, if he becomes the nominee.
"Let's assume everything is hunky dory with his views now," he said. "The problem is not so much where he is but where he was and the fact that that's a change and not just on that issue but on a number of others. What's problematic is that it does represent a dramatic shift and the obvious thing that a Democrat[ic] opponent will do to him is to say he shifted once, will he shift again?"
On policy matters, the former governor rejected the line-in-the-sand foreign policy practiced by President Bush, promising that a Huckabee Administration would better understand the responsibilities accorded the United States due to its unmatched prominence and power in the world.
"What we've done in terms of foreign policy is say you're either with us or you're against us. Here's the line. Get over here or you're against us," said Huckabee.
He also broke with his Republican rivals by endorsing Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) approach on the issue of torture. During one GOP debate, McCain was in a distinct minority by saying he would not endorse what are known as enhanced interrogation techniques when dealing with terrorists.
"I may disagree with him on a lot of things, but you know something I'm not going to argue with John McCain on, it's torture," said Huckabee. "Here's a man who's experienced it, and I think for any of the rest of us on that stage to try to act like we know more about torture than him is frankly if not laughable it's absurd."
Huckabee made his comments two days before Saturday's crucial Republican straw poll in Ames, an event that in the past has helped winnow the field of candidates. Huckabee is competing aggressively with Romney as well as Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback for the votes of social conservatives. Huckabee has cast the straw vote as critical to the future of his campaign, an organizational test that offers him the chance to continue building momentum for next year's Iowa caucuses.
Much of his straw poll strategy is built on his appeal to evangelical voters. Huckabee, a former Baptist minister, said that he had come up from the roots of the evangelical movement and had demonstrated his support for the social conservative agenda throughout his decade as governor of the Razorback State.
A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll of Iowa Republicans showed Huckabee running strong among evangelicals. While he took eight percent of the vote among all GOP caucus-goers, Huckabee took 17 percent of the vote among white evangelical Protestants. That was good for second place, ahead of better-known candidates like former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson (13 percent) and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (12 percent). One in five evangelicals considered Huckabee the most honest and trustworthy of the field, roughly the same percentage who said he best understands the problems of people like them and is closest to them on the issues.
That same poll showed that while most Republican voters like Huckabee and believe he is both honest and trustworthy, they do not think he can win the presidency. Asked about that gap, Huckabee insisted his campaign was headed in the right direction and pointed to Saturday's vote as a chance to prove his seriousness.
"Other campaigns started at the top, they're slipping backwards," Huckabee said. "I just want to pass them at the right time and this is an opportunity to show -- as the polls this week are clearly indicating -- we're doing exactly what we hoped to do."