OTTUMWA, Iowa-- Mike Huckabee on Friday night accused Mitt Romney of being "desperate" and "dishonest" in his negative attacks as part of the most extensive and direct public criticism Huckabee has yet leveled at his chief Iowa rival as the caucus approaches.
Speaking in front of a crowd of several hundred at the Bridgeview Center here, Huckabee said he wanted to take the opportunity to "set the record straight," and he countered Romney's criticisms of his record on taxes, spending, and clemencies.
Unlike earlier in the day, Huckabee named names. "After watching some of Mitt Romney's ads about me, I'm not sure I would vote for myself," he joked.
Huckabee said that Romney is getting desperate, because he finds himself behind in Iowa despite outspending Huckabee 20 to 1. "When people get that far behind after spending that much money, they get desperate," he said. "Desperate is one thing, dishonest is something else. When you get desperate and dishonest, it's not a pretty site."
In another example of the emerging everybody vs. Romney dynamic of the race, Huckabee came to the defense of John McCain, who has been trading barbs with Romney in New Hampshire over an attack ad. "John McCain is a true, honest to god, American hero," Huckabee said.
He also went after Romney's record as governor of Massachusetts. "Mr. Romney says I raised taxes," Huckabee said. "What he doesn't tell you is that he raised a half a billion dollars in fees, mostly on small business people." In response to Romney's argument that he granted zero clemencies as governor, Huckabee argued that Romney was doing the politically safe thing, and asked the audience for a show of hands as to whether they would have pardoned an Iraq War vet who couldn't become a police officer, because of a BB gun offense when he was 13 (Romney didn't).
Huckabee also questioned Romney's pro-life credentials, noting that he was a recent convert and suggesting the audience look into the Massachusetts health care plan Romney signed, that offered abortions for a $50 co-pay.
"You have the right to know the truth," Huckabee said several times. "Quite frankly, I believe we ought to elect a president not because he's been able to disable his opponents, and not because he's been dishonest with people about his opponents. Because just remember this: if somebody is dishonest in order to get a job, how can you trust them to be honest in the job?"
I was told that the auditorium, about the size of a movie theater, seated 650 people, and I would say 400-500 of those seats were filled--which Huckabee claimed was a turnout twice as big as that of Bill and Hillary Clinton at a recent event at the same place. Romney is also speaking at the venue Saturday afternoon, so I'll be able to compare crowd size.
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