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updated 12/19/2007 1:31:00 PM ET 2007-12-19T18:31:00
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Unlike some of his fellow GOP contenders, Mitt Romney doesn't seem to be filled with much holiday cheer lately -- at least not on the airwaves. Seeing his leads in Iowa and South Carolina evaporate, the Republican presidential hopeful is continuing his efforts to contrast his gubernatorial record with that of Mike Huckabee in a new Iowa TV ad criticizing his rival's stance on crime. Meanwhile, as Romney plays the Grinch, Huckabee's running a new ad with a positive message about Christmas -- which is also stirring some controversy.

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In his second negative ad against Huckabee in Iowa, Romney calls into question the former Arkansas governor's record on fighting crime. Much like the first contrast ad Romney ran spotlighting Huckabee's positions on immigration, the new spot begins positively, noting that both former governors are pro-life and support traditional marriage. But the ad quickly transitions to a critique of the pardons Huckabee granted as governor.

Using an AP investigation as background, the ad claims that Huckabee issued 1,033 pardons as governor -- "more clemencies than the previous three governors combined," including former President Bill Clinton. Although he's not mentioned by name in the ad, perhaps the most well-known man pardoned during Huckabee's tenure is Wayne DuMond, a convicted rapist and murderer, who committed the same offenses after his release from prison, which members of the state parole board claimed came at Huckabee's urging.

The Huckabee campaign responded to the ad's claims on its Web site. But on the air, Team Huckabee is still trying to remain above the fray with a new, holiday-themed TV ad airing in three early primary states.

Once again, Huckabee plays up the Christian theme in his new ad, which is presented as a warm and fuzzy Christmas greeting. National Review's Byron York reports that the idea behind the campaign was to try and cut through the clutter of retail ads and political spots inundating the airwaves in the early primary states by issuing a positive message of yuletide cheer.

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"Are you about worn out of all the television commercials you've been seeing? Mostly about politics. I don't blame you," Huckabee begins in the ad, wearing a red sweater and sitting in a living room decorated for Christmas. As the camera pans left, what appears to be a white shelf or windowpane in the shape of a cross dominates the background, prompting some to question whether the symbolism, coupled with the Christmas tree, was intentional. Especially when one considers the next line in the ad: "At this time of year, sometimes it's nice to pull aside from all of that and just remember that what really matters is the celebration of the birth of Christ and being with our family and our friends."

Huckabee's overtly Christian holiday message has raised some eyebrows in the wake of a recent interview in which Huckabee asked if Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers. That comment, coupled with the Christmas ad, has prompted further speculation about whether the Baptist preacher is subtly playing the "religion card" against Romney, a Mormon.

And at a time when the "Happy Holidays" vs. "Merry Christmas" debate still rages on in America, some are questioning whether a TV ad with a religious Christmas message will be offensive to voters. The spot is running in three early primary states -- Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina -- two of which contain strong Republican voting blocs of evangelical Christians, who have long railed against what they believe to be the politically correct left's "War on Christmas."

Not to be left out of the holiday squabble, Rudy Giuliani today issued his own festive message to New Hampshire voters. In the TV ad, the former New York City mayor appears to take a subtle jab at the back-and-forth between his fellow GOP candidates. "And I really hope that all of the presidential candidates can just get along," Giuliani says, to which Santa Claus, sitting beside him, replies, "Ho, ho, ho, ho. I was with you right up until that last one."

Copyright 2012 by National Journal Group Inc.

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