I’m trying not to blog too much on Romney vs. Huckabee. This is the Christmas season, and there are plenty of other things going on besides Republican primary politics. But I find the recent Newsweek article on Romney’s false and misleading attack ads compelling. Let me explain.
For better or for worse, negative attacks are effective in political battles, particularly when used in the latter stages of a tight race. The key, it seems, is to identify your opponent with weakness on a certain issue: Willy Horton effectively eliminated Michael Dukakis in 1988, who was thereby branded as being soft on crime. The problem with negative attacks is that even if they are accurate, they allow a candidate to rise in the polls not on their own merits, but on the demerits of the other candidate. And it is even worse if the attacks are false and/or misleading.
In Iowa, Huckabee was ahead of Romney by as many as 22 points according to a Newsweek poll as recently as two weeks ago. Now, Rasmussen has them in a statistical deadheat. Likewise, Huckabee had been seven points ahead in South Carolina, but now he is tied for the lead with Romney in that early voting state. Why? Rasmussen notes:
Over the past week, Iowa voters have learned a lot about Mike Huckabee and not all of it has been flattering. Favorable opinions of Huckabee have dropped from 81% to 67% over the past week and the Huckabee tide has receded a bit.
Romney has been running two negative ads on TV, one labeling Huckabee as soft on illegal immigration, and the latest labeling him as soft on crime. Both contain false and misleading claims. On illegal immigration, it was said that Huckabee supported benefits for illegals immigrants. In fact, Governor Huckabee never supported benefits for illegal immigrants. In Arkansas, illegal immigrants do not receive welfare benefits or food stamps. On the issue of crime, Romney suggests that Huckabee is too lenient on distributors and manufacturers of the illegal drug methamphetamine (a.k.a. “meth”). That prompted Newsweek to republish a factcheck.org study.
Here are the details of the state laws: In Arkansas, offenders found guilty of intent to distribute or manufacture while in possession of less than an ounce of meth face a minimum sentence of “not less than ten (10) years nor more than forty (40) years, or life” and a fine “not exceeding twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000).” In Massachusetts, the penalty for a person convicted of manufacturing, distributing or possessing with intent to manufacture or distribute a substance that contains any quantity of methamphetamine is “a term of imprisonment in the state prison for not less than two and one-half nor more than ten years.” A fine of no more than $10,000 may be imposed as well. The legislation Romney backed [but did not pass] would not have increased the mandatory minimum, even if it had passed.
Read the whole thing, which contains numerous links to original source documents.