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To hear Mitt Romney tell it, Republican Mike Huckabee shares more with Democrat Bill Clinton than a hometown in Hope, Ark., and a stint as Arkansas governor.
Both men, Romney suggests, have left-leaning governing philosophies, particularly on taxes and spending.
“Governor Huckabee’s record is more liberal than our nation needs right now,” the former Massachusetts governor said in Iowa last week, seeking to link his GOP presidential rival to the former Democratic president who is loathed by many Republican loyalists.
Retorted Huckabee: “This nonsense about being a liberal is pure nonsense.”
Romney started giving Huckabee that brand — and implicitly linking him to Clinton — as polls started showing a tight race in the first state to speak in the GOP nomination fight. Romney had led in Iowa for months, but Huckabee’s recent rise here and elsewhere has prompted Romney to go after his opponent.
The effort may be paying off. Polls show Huckabee’s double-digit lead dropping to single digits less than two weeks before the caucuses.
Romney’s aides argue Huckabee’s record as governor undercuts his claim that he’s the only authentic conservative in the race. Romney himself has stopped short of explicitly saying his rival is simply another Clinton, though he’s less shy about it in campaign literature mailed to thousands of Iowa Republicans.
He wouldn’t bite this past week when pressed on whether Huckabee and Clinton were one and the same.
“They’re very different people, and obviously the area of concern relates to spending and taxation. We think of Bill Clinton as being a tax raiser and a spender,” Romney said — then mused that he had read somewhere that Huckabee had raised more taxes than Clinton when they were governors.
Asked whether Huckabee was more like him or Clinton, Romney sidestepped.
“I think you have to look issue by issue,” he said.