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Huckabee Unveils Ad Only to Disavow It

Video
Highlights from Mike Huckabee's press conference on Dec. 31, during which he announces he's pulling an attack ad against Mitt Romney. Video by Chet Rhodes & Jackie Refo/washingtonpost.com

Huckabee said the new ad, which says Romney is too dishonest to be president and wrong on gun control, abortion and taxes, was sent to television and radio stations Sunday but will not be broadcast. He said he had made the decision only 10 minutes before his noon news conference, surprising even his top staff.

"The original plan was to show you the two Romney attack ads, then our response to it," he told reporters. "I just realized that this is not how we run our campaign in this state. We've gotten here by being positive."

That drew a sarcastic response from Romney campaign spokesman Kevin Madden. "To say one thing one minute and then turn around and show an attack ad to reporters the next will, obviously, leave folks with a very cynical view of Mike Huckabee and his message," Madden said. "Mike Huckabee has turned from nice to very hot-tempered now that his record has been examined by voters."

The move also was ridiculed by some in the party who said it called into question whether Huckabee is ready to be the GOP standard-bearer.

"Poor Huckabee has gone from being a principled conservative candidate to a political analyst who can't make a decision on strategy," said Scott Reed, who managed Robert J. Dole's presidential campaign in 1996. "This effort makes him look weak and will begin a new level of second-guessing that will overwhelm his campaign in the critical homestretch."

The possibility of a Huckabee victory in the 2008 nomination battle has been improbable from the beginning. In the first six months of the campaign, he raised almost no money and was a mere blip in most national and state polls.

He also adopted a unique, populist message for a Republican, one that takes aim at much of his party's establishment by highlighting how different he is from the button-down Romney.

As he seeks to expand his support beyond the conservative evangelicals who put him atop the field, Huckabee increasingly sounds like one of the Democratic candidates who has long been popular here, former senator John Edwards of North Carolina.

"A lot of the folks on Wall Street have been pummeling me . . . but I'm a champion of the guys on Main Street," Huckabee said Friday in Ottumwa.

Pete Wehner, a former top adviser to President Bush, said he thought Huckabee was "onto something" by emphasizing economic concerns of middle-class Americans but was not expressing them in a way that would win over GOP voters. "It's an interesting test case," Wehner said, "but that message of economic populism goes against the core of Ronald Reagan's message and is out of step with Republican voters."

Several weeks ago, Huckabee seemed to concede that he needed some guidance from an old Washington hand when he hired Ed Rollins, a Republican operative who joined the team with a pledge to help with the intraparty brawl that was sure to come. Rollins said on Sunday that they were producing an ad that would "set the record straight" on Huckabee and Romney.

Rollins stood uncomfortably to the side as Huckabee renounced what Rollins had helped produce for $30,000 the day before. But Huckabee defended Rollins at the news conference, saying that he was staying on as a top adviser.

"I'm responsible for the direction we're going," Huckabee said. "I'm responsible for the decision to pull it."


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