OSCEOLA, Iowa -- Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was locked and loaded to hunt pheasant in Osceola today. "See, that's what happens when you get in my way," the candidate said.
It's an annual tradition and a conscious contrast with his chief rival here, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who earlier this year said he was a lifelong hunter, then took it back, acknowledging he'd only hunted a few times.
"I certainly understand the culture of being outdoors. It's not something we had to go out and get a primer in. It's very much ordinary to me," Huckabee said. "It was a good hunt, a great day, and Iowa's a beautiful place to hunt pheasant. Something we don't get to do in Arkansas because we don't have the pheasants where I live. We have ducks and turkeys and deer. This was awesome."
And how many birds did Huckabee bag today?
"I got one," he said. "I could have had some others, but I might have risked shooting my campaign manager to do it."
Huckabee himself is being hunted with negative TV ads by Romney for his crime record and by a business lobby for having raised taxes.
Tonight a conservative group opposing illegal immigration will contact thousands of Iowa voters with this automated phone call:
"Do you support or oppose Mike Huckabee's touchback amnesty plan to allow illegal aliens to leave the U.S. and return legally one day?"
Asked if he was concerned that some people are now hearing things about the candidate they don't like, Huckabee replied: "They're hearing things about me that I don't like. But they're also hearing things that aren't necessarily true."
Huckabee talked up his record in Arkansas and, in a veiled shot at Romney, a one-term governor, said "some of the other people running couldn't even get re-elected. If you can't talk about your own record, you try to distort the other guy's record."
Romney is the only Republican running major campaigns in both Iowa and New Hampshire. He is also the only one going so aggressively negative -- against Huckabee in Iowa and against Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in the Granite State.
"He voted against the Bush tax cuts. That's failing Reagan 101," said Romney of McCain.
Today McCain, a former Navy pilot shot down over Vietnam, said, "I know something about tailspins, and it's pretty clear Mitt Romney is in one."