Romney: Huckabee Is "Too Liberal"

From CBS News' Scott Conroy:

MUSCATINE, IOWA -- At a town hall on the banks of the Mississippi River, Mitt Romney embraced his newfound underdog status in Iowa and attacked Mike Huckabee for being out of touch with the Republican base on key issues.

"I think over the coming days as people take a closer look at Governor Huckabee's record, they'll say, 'Good guy,'" Romney said. "He's right on abortion — he opposes abortion as I do. He's right on same sex marriage — he opposes that as I do. But on matters related to immigration, crime and spending and taxing, he's too liberal."

Governor Romney also attacked Huckabee for his record on crime. Although he did not refer directly to the infamous Wayne Dumond case, Romney did allude to it when he criticized Huckabee for granting pardons to convicted murderers.

"I think as people look at the pardons and commutations — over a thousand pardons and commutations — 12 murders being pardoned, I think people of Iowa will say that's unacceptable," Romney said.

"I'll contrast that with my own experience. I looked at a number of possible pardons and commutations. I looked to see if there was prosecutorial indiscretion or other faults on the part of the government. The number of pardons and commutations I gave was zero. I believe that if a jury convicts someone that unless there is some kind of irregularity, they ought to stay in jail for the sentence that they've been sentenced to."

CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker asked Governor Romney about the conversation he had yesterday with Huckabee regarding the former Arkansas governor's question to a reporter about whether Mormons believe that Jesus and the Devil are brothers.

"It was just after the debate," Romney said. "We were standing next to each other and he said he wanted to apologize for the statements that had been made, and I said, 'Apology accepted.' Pretty much that."

Romney made his remarks criticizing the new Iowa frontrunner at a press conference following a Powerpoint presentation on the economy and a Q&A session with a supportive crowd of about 125.

Earlier in the event, Romney said that he would tighten economic and diplomatic sanctions on Iran and downplayed suggestions that the recently released NIE report—which indicated Iran gave up its nuclear weapons program in 2003—should cause the United States to rethink its hard-line policy against the regime. Romney suggested that Iran could still develop a nuclear bomb within the next couple of years.

"I know there are a number of reporters that have come out recently — most important is the National Intelligence Estimate," Romney said. "Don't feel comfortable by virtue of just a quick headline reading of that. The 16 agencies I read in that National Intelligence Estimate say that Iran is continuing to develop nuclear technology, that they are enriching Uranium, that they would be able to have a bomb by as early as 2009, 2010. That means that—you know that's not far off. Remember this is almost 2008 in just a few days here. And that means 2009 or 2010 they could have a nuclear bomb. This is not a time for us to sit back and say, 'Oh, we've got plenty of time.'"

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    Scott Conroy is a National Political Reporter for RealClearPolitics and a contributor for CBS News.