The Obama campaign has taken heat for a Priorities USA ad, and a slideshow that ran on their own website that links Romney to the death of a woman whose husband was laid off from a steel mill owned by Bain Capital.
"When you start running ads accusing your opponent of killing people, then you have lost your credibility," top Romney aide Eric Fehrnstrom said on a conference call today. And while Romney has run his share of misleading commercials, to the book The Real Romney the candidate himself vetoed a negative ad that linked one of his primary opponents in 2008 to the death of a woman, seeing it as "desperate."
It was October 2007 and Mike Huckabee was on the rise in Iowa, threatening Romney's chances to win the state's caucuses in January. Alex Castellanos, then the chief strategist for Romney's campaign, suggested a harsh attack ad based on a a detail turned up in opposition research: Mike Huckabee had paroled a convicted rapist who, after his release, raped and murder a woman in 2003.
Another member of Romney's campaign, then media consultant and now chief strategist Stuart Stevens didn't like the idea.
"Why the sudden focus on Huckabee. Is there any reason to believe everything has changed from a week ago or two weeks ago, when we got our data? We are reacting as if there was some new development in the race," Stevens wrote to Castellanos and the campaign in a email on October 27, 2007 according to the book.
"Let's dont suddenly get in the mindset that our Iowa mission is to kill Huckabee."
Castellanos thought differently however, and he had the ad produced, aiming for an emotionally powerful spot in the tradition of the legendary 1988 "Willie Horton" attack Democratic presidential candidate Mike Dukakis.
The Romney campaign tracked down the mother of the victim and had her narrate the anti-Huckabee ad. The ad featured the mother holding her daughter's locket and attacked Huckabee for supporting the rapist's release with the mother's words.
The ad ended with a screenshot reading "Mike Huckabee granted 1,033 pardons and commutations."
Some in Romney's circle feared the ad would backfire on them, and the final decision to run the ad was left to Romney himself. Romney thought the ad seemed "desperate" and "created sympathy for Huckabee." In the end, Romney killed the ad.
In December, when Huckabee's surge was finally realized, Romney ran a softer ad hitting Huckabee for paroling criminals, without mentioning the death of the woman post-parole.