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Romney Roughs Up Huckabee Over Anti-Bush Comments, McCain Alleges Push-Polling

Mitt Romney stepped up his attacks on GOP rival Mike Huckabee on Saturday, saying his statements that the Bush administration's policies overseas demonstrate an "arrogant bunker mentality" sound like they're coming from a Democrat.

Huckabee wrote the comments in the January-February issue of the journal Foreign Affairs, where he said President Bush's approach has been "counterproductive" and urged a shift in diplomatic tone.

"I had to look again," Romney said in Humboldt, Iowa. "I said, 'Did this come from Barack Obama? Or from Hillary Clinton? Did it come from John Edwards?' No. It was one of our own. It was Gov. Huckabee.

"He said the Bush administration is guilty of an 'arrogant bunker mentality' that has been counterproductive here and abroad. I simply can't believe that. I can't believe he'd say that. I'm afraid he's running for the wrong party. The truth of the matter is this president's kept us safe these last six years."

Romney, who over the past few weeks has been swiftly overtaken by Huckabee as the frontrunner in early voting primary states, has been fighting to regain his footing and chipping away at Huckabee's image day by day.

"It did surprise me; his comments surprised me. They disappointed me. I expected a great deal more from the article than I saw," Romney said Saturday. "But the attack on the presidency was something uncalled for. It was unnecessary and inaccurate."

The comments compound the tension between the two candidates. The former Massachusetts governor recently had a standoff with Huckabee after it was reported that he questioned Romney's Mormon faith. Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister, asked whether Mormons believe Jesus and the devil are brothers but later apologized to Romney over the remark.

That dust-up came as Romney was launching a new Iowa ad — the first where he names a rival — casting Huckabee as soft on illegal immigration.

Romney underscored that point Saturday, reiterating that he opposes giving illegal immigrants tuition breaks. Huckabee once backed such a proposal in Arkansas.

Romney also told FOX News' John Gibson Friday that Huckabee's latest staff addition — former Ronald Reagan campaign director Ed Rollins — is "too hot too handle."

He was referring to Rollins' comments nearly 15 years ago that the campaign of former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, which he led, spent a half-million dollars to suppress the black vote. Rollins later recanted.

Romney said "most folks shied away" from Rollins after that, but "I am sure that Ed Rollins is happy to get a paying customer."

The Rollins' addition was still a sign Huckabee is trying to beef up his staff to match the sudden popularity in the polls. His surge is no longer isolated to a few select states. An American Research Group poll from Dec. 9 to Dec. 12 of 600 likely Republican primary voters showed Huckabee tied at 21 percent nationally with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. The margin of error was 4 percent.

Ariz. Sen. John McCain also went after Huckabee on Saturday, issuing a statement claiming new "push-polling" calls were going around in New Hampshire. Push-polling is a tactic where calls are made to sound like objective polls, but end up casting candidates in a harsh light.

McCain said the recent calls criticized his campaign in order to advance Huckabee's.

If an ally of his was doing that, "I would ask him to stop it immediately and take those things down. And I hope that Mike Huckabee will do the same," McCain said.

McCain said his campaign had told him Common Sense Issues had been making calls on behalf of the former Arkansas governor. He described it as nonprofit "supporter of Huckabee's for soft money."

"I don't have that hard information, but that's what I've been told it is," McCain said. It "is one of those organizations funded by Huckabee supporters and I would ask him to have them take it down just as if somebody was doing those things on my behalf I would have them take them down."

Huckabee responded to McCain's comments Saturday, saying he has had no involvement with push polling.

"As I've said before, our campaign has nothing to do with push polling and I wish they would stop. We don't want this kind of campaigning because it violates the spirit of our campaign. I want to become president because I am the best candidate, not because I disabled the other candidates," Huckabee said in a written statement.

FOX News' Shushannah Walshe and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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