Less than one week since their most recent roundtable with FOX News, the Republican presidential candidates met in South Carolina for yet another debate hosted by the cable news network Thursday night. This time, the candidates sparred over the economy but "largely held their fire on illegal immigration, the hottest issue among South Carolina Republicans," the Greenville News reports. No offense to South Carolinians, but that may be because many of the candidates are more focused on Michigan's Jan. 15 primary, which is held four days before the first-in-the-South contest.
With the highest unemployment rate in the nation and a manufacturing-based economy in peril, Michigan provides an opportunity for the GOP candidates to focus their attention on the pocketbook issues that are shaping up to be the No. 1 concern among voters around the country.
, who was born in Detroit, is currently focusing his entire advertising campaign on the Wolverine State. But one of his chief rivals, , released a new economy-focused TV ad in Michigan on Wednesday, nearly a week after Romney debuted a spot with a similar theme there. The ads' approaches to economic issues highlight the key differences between the two candidates.
Romney, who spent many years building a fortune running companies in the private sector, strikes a CEO-like pose in his trade-focused ad. But Huckabee, who grew up in a tiny town in Arkansas, seeks to connect with downtrodden Americans in a more personal way. "When you grow up and life's a struggle," he begins in the ad, "you have a whole different understanding of what most people are going through."
Huckabee goes on to list many economic burdens facing the middle class -- job losses, the mortgage crisis, gas prices -- and the ways he sought to alleviate those problems as Arkansas governor. He concludes the ad with a not-so-subtle contrast between himself and Romney: "I believe most Americans want their next president to remind them of the guy they work with, not the guy who laid them off."
Huckabee's populist message is one of the biggest differences separating him from the rest of the top-tier Republicans in the race. But while some see that as an asset for Huckabee in a time of deep economic concern among voters from both parties, his opponents are hoping to brand him as a liberal in GOP clothing. Rudy Giuliani, for his part, is taking a more traditional approach in his own economy-themed ad, which promises that "on his first day in office, Rudy Giuliani will send Congress the largest tax cut in American history."
New group hits Huckabee on DuMond case
Despite the detour through Michigan early next week, most of the Republican candidates are continuing to eye South Carolina, which has voted for the eventual GOP nominee in every presidential contest since 1980. As a former southern governor, Huckabee in particular is banking on a win there to propel his campaign well beyond his Iowa victory. But that win won't necessarily come easy.
A newly formed 527 group called Victims Voice began airing a somber TV ad during Thursday night's debate that takes Huckabee to task for his record on crime. Specifically, the ad features the mother of a woman who was raped and killed by a convicted rapist paroled under Huckabee's watch in 1997. "Thanks to Mike Huckabee, [Wayne] DuMond was released from his Arkansas prison," the ad claims. "If not for Mike Huckabee, Wayne DuMond would be in prison, and Carol Sue [Shields] would be with us," adds Lois Davidson, Shields' mother.
The ad is the first to mention the notorious DuMond case specifically, although Romney has attempted to paint Huckabee as soft on crime in previous spots. "Governor Huckabee feels deep sympathy for Mrs. Davidson's loss," the campaign said in a statement this morning, according to the Greenville News. "He is also appalled by this ad, which cynically exploits the profound and private grief of a mother in a truly despicable way, and recklessly abandons the truth of the case."
Victims Voice was founded by Keith Emis, who said in a statement on the group's Web site that he was moved to form the group after seeing Davidson speak about the DuMond case on TV. "There is no doubt Mrs. Davidson has a powerful story to tell, as do other victims of criminals pardoned by Mike Huckabee, but I wasn't sure she, or others, had an outlet to share it," Emis wrote.