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Have a little faith in Huckabee

Mike Huckabee has acquired a reputation for bringing a lighter touch to the race, but with his second TV buy of the race, Huckabee is moving in a decidedly weightier direction
/ Source: National Journal

In his quest for the Republican presidential nomination, has acquired a reputation for bringing a lighter touch to the race, both literally and figuratively. The former Arkansas governor fed into his image as the cheerful conservative with his tongue-in-cheek debut ad last week featuring martial-arts star Chuck Norris. But with his second TV buy of the race, Huckabee is moving in a decidedly weightier direction, not by laying out policy points on Iraq, immigration or tax reform, but by bearing his soul to Iowa voters.

"Faith doesn't just influence me, it really defines me," the Baptist minister says at the beginning of his new ad. The ad shows footage of Huckabee's speech at last month's Values Voters Summit in Washington, D.C., where he earned cheers for proclaiming, "Let us never sacrifice our principles for anybody's politics. Not now, not ever." Huckabee won the straw poll of Values Voters Summit participants, who nevertheless expressed concern about the choices facing social conservatives in next year's election.

Buoyed by recent polls showing an uptick in support both nationally and particularly in Iowa, Huckabee seems to be placing all of his eggs in the Hawkeye State basket, hoping to pull an upset over front-runner by persuading social conservatives -- the core of the Iowa Republican Party -- that he's the most "authentic conservative," as the ad states. The spot coincides with a new ABC News/Washington Post poll [PDF] showing Huckabee a mere 4 points behind Romney among Iowa Republicans.

By playing up Huckabee's Christian faith and his commitment to it (via his opposition to abortion and gay marriage), the ad can be viewed as an implied attack on his rivals, particularly Romney and former New York City Mayor . Despite his consistent front-runner status in national polls, many Christian conservatives have deep reservations about Giuliani's stances on social issues. Romney, too, has been accused of flip-flopping on some of these issues, and as a Mormon, he faces the added hurdle of not being considered a "true Christian" by many evangelicals.

But as many other observers have pointed out, last year's GOP drubbing may have Republicans more concerned with winning than scoring a flawlessly conservative nominee. Meanwhile, national polls show social issues are falling way under the radar compared with Iraq, the economy and other top concerns of voters.

In a conference call Monday, Huckabee said thanks in part to last week's debut ad, the campaign "raised more money in a matter of days than we raised in the first three months of the campaign" and is "going to have enough money to compete" -- and perhaps to air more policy-oriented ads.

McCain: They hate because I love
At a time when Washington is probably the least revered city in America, wants the voters of New Hampshire to know that he doesn't approve of "business as usual" in the nation's capital.

"Since I've been in Washington, I've made a lot of people angry," the four-term Arizona senator tells Granite Staters in his latest TV ad, citing his push for campaign finance reform and fiscal restraint. "I love America. I love her enough to make some people angry," he adds.

McCain's professed love of country is the latest part of his ongoing effort to remind New Hampshire primary voters of why they chose him over George W. Bush in 2000. While his first flurry of ads reintroduced McCain the military hero, his latest ad buys have focused on McCain the reformer -- the senator who crusades against corrupt government and conventional wisdom in Washington. So far, the push appears to be helping him sustain a healthy third-place slot in state polling.

Romney sets the record straight on immigration
In his last TV ad on immigration, Mitt Romney took direct aim at Democratic front-runner . But in his newest spot, the former Massachusetts governor touts his own record on the issue.

"Take Charge" premiered Monday in New Hampshire and Iowa -- states where Romney still leads but has seen other candidates quickly catching up. Romney is now in a virtual tie with Huckabee in the Hawkeye State according to one poll. In New Hampshire, both Rudy Giuliani and McCain are within striking distance, and Romney has disagreed with them in the past on immigration issues, most notably sanctuary cities and amnesty.

In the ad, Romney highlights his opposition to driver's licenses and in-state tuition for illegals and also points out that he "fought to keep English in the classroom."