Now that Republican Mike Huckabee has surged into contention against Mitt Romney in Iowa, he faces his first direct-mail attack.
The Romney mailer, which was sent to Iowa Republicans, focuses on illegal immigration. The mailer paints Huckabee and three other Republican rivals as "amnesty" supporters who want to provide "shelter" and "public benefits" to illegal immigrants.
While Romney's previous direct-mail pieces have ignored Huckabee, the inclusion of the former Arkansas governor in the latest mailer is no mistake: Romney's campaign views Huckabee's record on illegal immigration as central to stopping him in Iowa, a state where passions on the issue run high.
To back up its claims against Huckabee, the Arkansas Republican is quoted in the Romney mailer as saying last year that "what is good is a pathway to a legal status." In 2006, Huckabee supported the Senate's earned legalization plan over a House bill, which would have made illegal immigration a felony.
The mailer also quotes Huckabee as saying in 2005 that "illegal immigrants are actually financially supporting U.S. citizens." In the referenced Arkansas-Democrat Gazette story from 2005, Huckabee elaborates on that statement by saying that illegal aliens pay sales and fuel taxes. He also said that they pay income taxes for which they won't receive refunds, as well as Social Security taxes that they will never collect on.
Lastly, the mailer describes Huckabee as committed to "eligibility for state-supported college scholarships." Huckabee defended this position during Wednesday's CNN/YouTube debate by saying that it was premised on the principle that "we're not going to punish a child because the parent committed a crime."
Romney countered by accusing Huckabee of misappropriating taxpayers' money.
"It reminds me of what it's like talking to liberals in Massachusetts," Romney said in the debate. "They have great reasons for taking taxpayer money and using it for things they think are the right thing to do."
"Mike, that's not your money," he added. "That's the taxpayers' money."
While the Romney campaign views immigration as the key to taking down Huckabee, the former Massachusetts governor has immigration vulnerabilities of his own.
Romney supported the earned legalization concept as recently as last year, and for several years he used a landscaping company that reputedly relies heavily on illegal immigrants.LINK
Huckabee's Iowa campaign manager saw the inclusion of the former Arkansas governor in the direct-mail piece as a sign that Romney is worried about being toppled in Iowa. The Huckabee aide also pointed to a Rasmussen Poll released earlier this week, which shows Huckabee edging ahead of Romney.LINK
"Romney has had this nice cushy lead all along," said Eric Woolson, Huckabee's Iowa campaign manager, "and now he is falling behind."
"He is in second place," he added. "I think it's a clear indication that they are getting very worried about their hold on Iowa."