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Huckabee defends record on clemencies

By Mike Glover

Associated Press

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — Republican Mike Huckabee on Wednesday defended his handling of requests for clemency when he was Arkansas governor and in turn accused Mitt Romney of denying such requests to protect his political future.

"I think we ought to make decisions based on what’s best for the future of a young man, not for the future of someone who wants to run for future office," the Republican presidential candidate said.

Huckabee has surged into first place in Iowa and ahead of Romney, who had held a comfortable lead in the state for months. Since then, the two have engaged in an near-daily exchange of charges and countercharges as Romney seeks to recover. Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, recently started running a television ad that accuses Huckabee of passing out pardons to hardened criminals while he was governor.

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Opening his latest Iowa campaign swing on Wednesday, Huckabee defended his handling of requests for clemency.

"My opponent saw 100 of them. I saw 8,700 of them, 90 percent of them I denied," Huckabee said, defending the ones he approved.

"Many of the clemencies were 35-year-old single moms trying to get a job and raise a family and they couldn’t get hired because we require background checks," he said. "They wrote a hot check when they were 17 or 18 years old. I think they were good decisions and I stand by them."

Turning the tables, Huckabee pointed to Romney’s denial in Massachusetts of the request for pardon from an Iraq war veteran who was trying to become a police officer after his National Guard service. Anthony Circosta’s offense was that, as a 13-year-old, he shot a friend in the arm with a BB gun.

Huckabee accused Romney of denying the request for political reasons.

"Here’s a young man who made a mistake when he was 13," Huckabee said. "You have to decide whether we make a decision based on our political future or the future of a young man who was strong and went to war. The smart political thing is always deny all of them."

Huckabee also commented on the millions of dollars Romney has poured into the race, including some of his own money. Romney has outspent Huckabee by roughly 20-1 in the fierce campaign to win the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3.

"All I know is this, if I had that much money, that many consultants, that many employees, that many different headquarters, that much paraphernalia, I might be running as far behind as he is," Huckabee said. "A lot of people have realized that running for president is not about saying ‘I’ve got a lot of money, vote for me."’

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Huckabee’s rise in the polls has been fueled by social and Christian conservatives who respond to the strict conservative theme he sounds, and he made a class distinction as well with the far more affluent Romney, a venture capitalist.

"We’re the campaign that represents ordinary average Americans who sit around the kitchen table and worry about the next paycheck and the future of the children," Huckabee said.

There were signs that Huckabee’s organization was having a tough time keeping up with his ascent in the polls. The campaign event was held in a small room at a suburban shopping mall, with about as many reporters and photographers as onlookers as the scrum descended at the height of the Christmas shopping season. About as many people lined the hallway outside as were able to get in the room to see Huckabee.

"Next time we will rent a larger room," Huckabee said. "I think the night of January 3 might be the night to do it."

Later in the day, Huckabee spoke to more than 300 supporters in Ames. He said his jump in the polls comes largely because voters are disturbed by the politics of Washington and are looking for an outsider.

"They spent our money but they didn’t spend it on the problems we sent them there to fix," Huckabee said. "We also deserve a government that reflects what we believe."

Huckabee compared the government with youngsters who have difficulty doing as they’re told.

"We often get in trouble when we don’t do what we’re told to do," Huckabee said.

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