12.29.2007

Republicans: Huckabee hurting on foreign policy; Romney and McCain go at it

The New Hampshire GOP primary has evolved into an all-out war between Mitt Romney and John McCain. The AZ Senator has long been known to detest Romney, so the fact that the fight at the top now looks to be between the two candidates was sure to ignite some negativity... and it was all unleashed today.

Romney was already the first and only candidate in both parties to have aired an attack ad up till now, against Huckabee in Iowa. And this morning, Romney started running an ad in New Hampshire blasting John McCain (view it here). The ad is built on the same model as those running against Huck in Iowa -- which probably means that team Romney is happy with the effect those ads are having on their numbers in Iowa and think they are helping to bring Huckabee down. This NH ad sets a contrast between McCain's record on taxes and immigration (in particular his opposition to Bush's tax cuts) and Romney's claim to be a strong proponent of tax cuts and a strong opponent of illegal immigration. Naturally, there is a big risk in going negative against John McCain, the candidate who presents himself as the straight talker not interested in attacks. But clearly the GOP base at some level distrusts McCain and we shall see whether this helps awake those feelings.

McCain's campaign quickly fired back, putting together an attack ad of its own (watch it here). Now consider that this makes McCain only the second candidate in either party to air an attack ad in this entire cycle. McCain uses the anti-Romney editorials of the Concord Monitor and Union Leader to call Romney a "phony candidate" who "lacks conviction." This could also have some effect insofar as phoniness is definitly the main charge against Romney, who is often pointed as a candidate who has patched himself together and who self-invented a conservative identity.

But let's also admit that Romney's ad was based on substance and policy issues, and while there were some exaggerations it did not fall in the personal ad hominem level of the McCain ad which engages Romney in absolutely no issue of substance and stays entirely at the level of character. Based on that difference, McCain's ad is much more negative than Romney's -- a strange result given McCain's claim to only be interested in substantive politics that focus on policy and talk straight.

  • Huckabee and Pakistan
One of the main criticisms aimed at Huckabee since his sudden rise three weeks ago was his weakness on foreign policy issues. With the arrival of Pakistan in the news yesterday, Huckabee had an opportunity to prove his critics wrong -- or at least to make sure that he did not misspeak since his words were likely to be parsed much more carefully for potential mistakes than virtually anyone else's.

But instead, the stream of Huckabee's mistakes has been one of the main stories in the past 24 hours -- and one the media is having a field day with. Here is the NYT's summary of Huckabee's errors: He talked about Pakistan's "eastern borders" with Afghanistan instead of western borders; he talked about his hope that the martial law would not continue when it has been halted for two weeks now; he used this issue to raise immigration alarms by claiming that Pakistanis are the largest immigrant groups outside of those coming from Laitn America -- a number that is disproven; etc. None of these are particularly huge mistakes, but given prior doubts on Huckabee they further doubts that he is not ready and they are costing Huckabee precious news cycle a week from Iowa.

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