Huckabee's (Sort of) Change of Heart

From CBS News Director of Political Coverage Steve Chaggaris:

DES MOINES, IOWA -- 75 reporters and cameras packed into a conference room at the Des Moines Marriott today to hear Mike Huckabee say he was fed up with Mitt Romney's attacks on his record. All signs pointed to Huckabee intensely going after Mitt Romney's record and to unveil new TV ads attacking Romney.

Well, it didn't exactly play out that way.

Flanked by his wife, Janet, Huckabee took to the podium and announced an about-face: he pulled the negative TV ads he was to air beginning today.

"We prepared it, sent it to the stations, supposed to start running at noon today. This morning, I ordered my staff to pull the ad; I told them I do not want it to be run. If it was run at all, it would be until the stations pulled it off their schedules. And we are now committed, from now through the rest of the caucuses, that we will run only the ads that talk about why I should be president, and not why Mitt Romney should not," said Huckabee, standing in front of a sign that said "Enough is Enough."

"I know that some are up saying, well did you really have an ad? Well, I'm going to show you the ad. You'll get the chance to find out," he continued as the room erupted in laughter.

It was a bizarre scene. The backdrop was setup to reflect a new tough, take-no-criticism Huckabee. Five placards with contrasts and criticisms of Romney's record were set up next to the stage. And a projection screen was at the ready to show everyone the new TV ads.

What was most odd, however, was not the fact that Huckabee announced his change of heart to pull the ads. It was his announcement that he was going to show one of the ads to the press anyway, to "prove" that they had made one and pulled it.

Quite an interesting idea - produce an attack ad, tell the public you've decided last-minute you don't want to go negative, regardless of the consequences, but then show the public the ad anyway, getting your attacks out for all to digest.

After several attempts by his audio-visual assistant to get the ad to play correctly, it finally premiered, to his exclusive audience: campaign reporters.

"If a man is dishonest to obtain a job, he'll be dishonest on the job. Iowans deserve better," the pseudo-invisible ad says.

Of course, it remains to be seen how this all plays out just 3 days before the Iowa caucuses. Even Huckabee acknowledged this is a serious roll of the dice.

"I'm taking a risk here," he said. If this tactic doesn't work out for him, he added, "then I'll probably be the last guy to ever do this."

CBS News' Joy Lin contributed to this report.

  • Steve Chaggaris

    Steve Chaggaris is CBS News' senior political editor.