Huckabee and McCain Playing it Polite in S.C.
By Perry Bacon Jr.
FLORENCE, S.C. -- In South Carolina, an increasingly bizarre GOP race has created another strange result: a muted campaign in the Palmetto State.
In 2000, John McCain and then-Gov. George W. Bush waged a bitter campaign in South Carolina, airing negative ads and accusing each other of dishonesty. But in a state known for rough politics, the two GOP front-runners here now, McCain and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, have barely engaged one another -- even with a vote in two days that is pivotal for both camps.
McCain advisers privately dismiss the former governor as a candidate with a single constituency, social conservatives, while Huckabee advisers say the longtime Senator is "like, 95," as one put it, an old man whose time has passed.
In Iowa, Huckabee compared Mitt Romney to the British in the American Revolution (over-funded and fighting the forces of good), and in New Hampshire, McCain's anger at Romney during debates was almost unpleasant to watch. But in a race against each other rather than Romney, Huckabee has over the past few days on the stump complained only about "Washington insiders."
"My attitude is if they were going to fix, they should have already done it," he said of the immigration laws. (Huckabee is speaking about McCain, his advisers say.)
The most obvious anti-McCain move by Huckabee was signing a pledge yesterday by a group called Numbers USA in which he committed not to support any pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants already here. Yet Huckabee refused to directly criticize McCain at that event, even as the group's leader noted McCain refused to sign the pledge.
"McCain hasn't attacked us," said Ed Rollins, Huckabee's campaign chair. "We like McCain."
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