INDIANOLA, IOWA -– "Governor Huckabee, if Mitt Romney were the Republican nominee, would you vote for the Republican nominee or would you vote for a Democrat?" asked a reporter today.
"Oh, I would never vote for a Democrat in the presidential election next year," he responded.
"But you just accused him of being dishonest. Would you rather vote for a dishonest Republican or an honest Democrat?" she continued calmly. The room of reporters slowly erupted in oh-no-she-didn't ooooohs and laughter. Huckabee began to chuckle himself.
"Hello, I'm Mike Huckabee, and I didn't approve this message," he said in an announcer's voice. He laughed. "Okay, I think that's all the time we have. You're good, you're really good ... And I'm not, I'm not going to answer that."
It was a legitimate question for a candidate who, on December 19, said, "We're going to at some point have a nominee. It's going to be one of us and the rest of us are all going to be sort of forced to sort of stand on stage with big smiles on our face and say this is just great with us ... I don't want to do that with some disingenuous grin on my face. I want to be able to say we had a good battle, the best man won, and now we are going to unite this party. We're going to keep the White House and bring America back to its best days."
Reporters today honed in on Huckabee's consistent use of the word "dishonest" to describe Romney's style of negative campaigning.
"Maybe you have another word for it, but the only word I knew in Arkansas was – we kind of called it simple there – we called it dishonest. That's the only thing I know how to call it," he said.
Huckabee maintained today he was trying to run a "positive campaign" that brought out "honest differences, policy differences." But Huckabee said he needed to "defend my record and that of John McCain and Rudy Giluiani's" because "it's one thing to attack us on our records, it's another thing to make it up."
"Every Iowan voter right now is being bombarded with nasty, negative attack ads that are just absolutely untrue. We've got to set the record straight so the voters of Iowa don't hear that and say, 'oh Huckabee hasn't said anything. It must be true if he's not responding'...I believe one great thing about Iowa caucuses dis these are folks who have been through this before. And even though they are not easily swayed by ... the noise of negative, nasty ads, they certainly can be influenced and affected if we don't have any response for it."
Yesterday, Huckabee also took the unusual move of criticizing Romney for his anti-abortion record, instead of keeping to his usual style of fending off Romney attacks. Huckabee was asked to explain those comments today. "If [Romney] wants to show contrast, let's do it. And he can't take me on on the pro-life issue because he knows nobody in the race is more consistently pro-life than me."
"If I look at his record, first of all, he's a recent convert to the pro-life position ... His healthcare plan has a $50 co-pay for an abortion, and that's hardly a pro-life bill, and he could have vetoed that. He did veto in fact in his healthcare bill a provision that would have expanded Medicaid dental services, but he kept in the provision for abortion, and I think he's got some explaining to do."
A group of Arkansas legislators was trailing Romney today to, as Huckabee explained, "clarify my record" against a mailing that was "completely erroneous." Huckabee estimated there were "several hundred" Arkansans who are "all over Iowa who have come to Iowa." Huckabee said some came at their own expense; others had their expenses paid for by the campaign although no honorariums were given.
"I think they are going to be a very important resource for us," he said. "If we don't have the millions of dollars to spend on answering every ad, putting people in communities all over Iowa – telling the truth is going to be very helpful for us."