In one of the odder moments in this race for the White House, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee called a press conference to release a negative TV ad about his rival Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who's been attacking Huckabee on air and on the stump for weeks. But in a move that stunned even members of his own staff, Huckabee, instead, announced that he'd changed his mind.
Earlier today, Huckabee seemed ready to rumble with Romney, even pumping himself up during a morning run.
When a reporter asked him who would win in a foot race between him and Romney, Huckabee said Romney, who has been accused of changing his positions on several issues. Huckabee said his rival, in a race, would "be running both ways the whole time."
Hours later, the stage was set for Huckabee to show his new anti-Romney TV ad. The backdrop read "Enough is Enough!" Nine times. Charts detailed contradicting Romney quotes on abortion, taxes, immigration, guns, and judicial nominations. And, of course, a big screen was present to unveil the new Huck-a-spot.
The Baptist minister did not look to be planning to turn the other cheek.
But then, he announced he was not going to run the ad.
"We ought to change the tone of the debate, and I'm going to start with me," Huckabee said.
The former Arkansas governor then showed the roomful of TV cameras the very ad he said he did not want to see on television — which ensured the ad would be shown on the air.
The ad began with Huckabee's introduction, saying, "Iowans have the right to know the truth about Mitt Romney's dishonest attacks on me, and even an American hero, John McCain."
The ad continued to take jabs at Romney's tax record, support for gun control, and a "government-mandate health plan," which included a $50 co-pay for abortion.
"If a man's dishonest to obtain a job, he'll be dishonest on the job. Iowans deserve better." Huckabee said in the ad.
Huckabee warned reporters before the ad was played, "You're not going to get a copy of it, so this is your chance to see it, then after that, you'll never see it again."
The room erupted with guffaws.
But Huckabee insisted he was being transparent, not calculating, by showing the ad at the press conference. He said that some people might still view his decision as a media ploy, but he wanted to show people that the ad existed.
"If I came and said, 'We're going to run an ad, but now, we're not going to run an ad,' you'd say, 'Where's the ad?'" Huckabee said.
Campaign adviser Ed Rollins said that the television ad cost the campaign $30,000.
In response, Romney expressed bewilderment. "On the one hand, he wants to run a positive campaign, and on the other hand, he shows a negative campaign ad, and hopes that people promote it and provide it to the public through the earned media," Romney said. "And I think that's a very confusing and puzzling message."
Ever since Huckabee started rising in the Iowa polls, Romney has relentlessly attacked him as a liberal on the stump and on the air, which Huckabee acknowledges has hurt him. After watching his lead in the polls erode, Huckabee just recently began returning fire. His campaign even compared Romney's take on the truth to a line delivered by 'Seinfeld' character George Costanza: "Jerry, just remember. It's not a lie — if you believe it."
Huckabee said, despite his recent criticisms of Romney as "dishonest," voters could appreciate his return to positive campaigning.
"It's never too late to do the right thing," he said, refusing to disavow any of his criticisms. "I said what I said. I spoke the truth."
Asked if Romney should pull his negative ads, Huckabee responded, "I'm not going to try to run his campaign. I'm having enough trouble running mine."
The Romney campaign called Huckabee's stunt a bizarre meltdown, and Huckabee, himself, said that it was all a huge gamble. It wasn't clear whether he was referring to his decision to go positive — or the unusual way he did so.