Editors Note: Howard Kurtz is the media reporter for The Washington Post and host of CNN's Reliable Sources.
In a television ad, Mitt Romney misrepresents John McCain's position on immigration, a CNN analysis finds.
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Two negative ads recently launched by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who has spent more on advertising than any other candidate, either misrepresent his rival's records or include distortions, according to a CNN analysis of the commercials.
The ads come as the Republican air war has erupted into a series of attacks ads, just days before the Iowa caucuses on January 3, Wyoming caucuses on January 5, and the New Hampshire primary on January 8.
In one Romney television ad running in New Hampshire, the announcer calls rival Sen. John McCain "an honorable man" then goes on to ask "but is he the right Republican for the future?"
"McCain pushed to let every illegal immigrant stay here permanently..." the announcer charges. "Even voted to allow illegals to collect Social Security." Watch Romney's ad attacking McCain »
But the ad distorts the position of the Arizona Republican, who has narrowed Romney's lead in New Hampshire. McCain's compromise legislation introduced last summer, which was backed by President Bush, would have required illegal immigrants to return to their home countries and pay a fine for breaking the law before applying for legal status.
McCain also voted to allow illegals to receive past Social Security benefits only after obtaining legal status.
Romney, for his part, ordered a police crackdown on illegal immigrants two weeks before he left the job of governor of Massachusetts.
While Romney is strafing McCain in New Hampshire, his target in Iowa is former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
In the anti-Huckabee commercial, the announcer calls Romney and Huckabee "two good men," then asks "but who is ready to make tough decisions?"
"Mike Huckabee? Soft on government spending.... His foreign policy? 'Ludicrous,' says Condoleezza Rice," the announcer continues.
Secretary of State Rice, however, did not call Huckabee's foreign policy "ludicrous." Rice was responding to Huckabee's criticism of the Bush administration for what he called an "arrogant bunker mentality" on world affairs in the January/February issue of Foreign Affairs magazine.
McCain is fighting back by using criticism of Romney from editorial writers, which has the effect of making him seem less negative. Watch McCain's ad responding to Romney »
In the McCain ad, the announcer says, "As you hear Mitt Romney attack John McCain, consider these words from New Hampshire newspapers. The Union Leader says John McCain has 'conviction' and 'Granite Staters want a candidate who will look them in the eye and tell them the truth.' "
"John McCain has done that," the announcer continues, quoting the newspaper's editorial. "Mitt Romney has not."
While Romney's ads say a few nice words about Huckabee and McCain before ripping their records, the commercials could backfire on Romney. In races with crowded fields, negative ads have sparked voter backlash against squabbling politicians. The attacks wind up helping candidates who stick with a positive message.
That may be why Huckabee on Monday announced he had pulled a television ad his campaign had prepared to respond to Romney's criticism. Watch Huckabee explain why he pulled the ad »
He said he called his staff Monday morning and told them he wanted it pulled.
"I just decided that's not the way we want to run it," the former pastor said. "It's never too late to do the right thing."
Huckabee acknowledged that he expected "cynicism" from those who believe that by showing the ad at the news conference he is still launching the attack while coming across as a candidate who wants to stay positive.
But, Huckabee said, he expects that if he had not shown the ad, reporters would have asked to see it.
"Conventional political wisdom is that when you're hit, and it's beginning to do damage, the smart play is to hit back," Huckabee said during an event in Des Moines, Iowa. But he said, "that's not the way we want to run it."
"We have to decide we can change the kind of politics and the level of discourse," Huckabee said. "We've got to start somewhere, so we might as well start here and might as well start with me."
Huckabee said the commercial was sent to Iowa television stations and may air for a day before being pulled out of rotation. Huckabee also said he would not be surprised if the commercial was posted on YouTube.
Romney launched a television ad in Iowa Monday, titled "Everywhere," that emphasizes a positive message.
In that commercial, Romney says, "Everywhere my family and I go we hear that America's challenges are simply too big for Washington politicians. I've spent my life tackling big problems -- helping turn around business, the Olympics, and state government."
"Together we can grow our economy, stop illegal immigration, defend life and preserve the values that make America the hope of the Earth," Romney says. "It's time to turn around Washington." E-mail to a friend
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