Romney questioned the religious overtones in Huckabee's new Christmas TV ad.
COLUMBIA, South Carolina (CNN) - Mitt Romney continued to assail Republican rival Mike Huckabee's record as Arkansas governor Tuesday, and defended the second negative TV ad his campaign is now running in Iowa.
"I think Gov. Huckabee's rise in the polls justifies him getting a close look from the voters," Romney told reporters inside an airport hangar near Columbia.
"I think as they take a close look at his record on immigration they’ll see somebody who is too liberal on immigration. When they look at the 1,033 pardons and commutations they’ll see someone who was too liberal on crime," said Romney.
This week, the Romney campaign launched a TV ad in Iowa accusing Huckabee of being soft on crime and reducing punishments for those caught manufacturing meth.
It's his second ad to draw a contrast with the former Arkansas governor: last week, the Romney campaign launched an Iowa TV spot hitting Huckabee on his immigration record.
The former Massachusetts governor dismissed the notion that primary voters might sour to negative political ads running during the holidays.
"I think people recognize this is very critical time in our nation's history and the issues are important," he said. "This is not just about feel-good. This is about how we would deal with important issues."
Romney's "feel-good" comment was a reference to Huckabee's own television ad currently running in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, in which Huckabee dons a red sweater and tells viewers that "what really matters is the celebration of the birth of Christ."
Romney questioned whether the ad, with its clear Christian overtones, is politically appropriate. He said he hopes "we don't divide America on the basis of faith."
"I hope Gov. Huckabee like all of us at this time, is sensitive to that diversity of faith and the liberty of peoples to worship God as they choose," he said, adding that he might have a further comment on the ad later.
- CNN South Carolina Producer Peter Hamby