Mitt Romney's 2008 campaign staff considered running an attack ad against Mike Huckabee, a soon-to-be released book reveals, to hit the former Arkansas governor for pardoning a convicted rapist who subsequently raped and murdered a woman.
The tactic would be similar to former Pres. George H.W. Bush's "Willie Horton" attack ad against former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, which helped sink his presidential campaign.
The revelation comes from the forthcoming book The Real Romney, written by Boston Globe reporters Michael Kranish and Scott Helman. The Huffington Post obtained an advance copy of the book, which will be released Tuesday.
They write that the candidate was outraged by Huckabee's comment to The New York Times Magazine in December 2007, when he disparaged Romney's religion by saying "Don't Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?" Romney and the campaign then disputed how to respond to Huckabee's rising challenge.
Alex Castellanos, a media adviser for Romney who produced the infamous 1990 "White Hands" ad for Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), ordered the production of an ad attacking Huckabee's parole record, while a second member of Romney's media team, Stuart Stevens, downplayed Huckabee's importance. Kranish and Helman describe the ad:
It was envisioned as one of the most powerful spots of the campaign, a more empathetic version of the infamous "Willie Horton" ad that had helped sink the 1988 presidential campaign of Democrat Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts. Instead of using a heavy-handed narrator, Castellanos and his team tracked down and filmed the mother of a woman murdered by a convicted rapist who had been released during the Huckabee administration. The ad showed the mother holding her daughter's locket and accusing Huckabee of having supported the rapist's release. The emotional words of the mother were accompanied by a frame that said, "Mike Huckabee granted 1,033 pardons and commutations."
Romney killed the ad, they report, because he worried it would seem desperate and create sympathy for the former Arkansas governor.
However, Romney did end up attacking Huckabee on his pardons. An ad spot entitled "Choice: Judgement" compared the two former governors' records on crime. The announcer said Huckabee "granted 1,033 pardons and commutations, including 12 convicted murderers. Huckabee granted more clemencies than the previous three governors combined. Even reduced penalties for manufacturing methamphetamine."
Huckabee refused to go negative against Romney, which helped him with Iowa voters, who polls show dislike negative ads. At one press conference days before the caucuses, he even showed reporters a negative ad and then announced that he had decided not to run it.
Romney has attempted to take a similar tack in his 2012 campaign by allowing a pro-Romney super PAC, Restore Our Future, to make jabs against opponent and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich rather than running attack ads himself. The super PAC spent about $2.8 million in advertising, almost all of it devoted to attacks against Gingrich. The ads helped torpedo Gingrich's chances in Iowa and Romney ended up winning a narrow victory.
In 2008, Romney ended up losing Iowa to Huckabee by a 34-25 margin, despite spending about $7 million in ads to Huckabee's $1.4 million.