CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Dropping the amiable persona that's animated his underdog presidential campaign, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee accused Republican rival Fred Thompson Thursday of waffling on abortion and gay marriage and lying about Huckabee's record.
Huckabee and Thompson, the actor and former Tennessee senator, are both trying to define themselves as social conservatives in a state where such voters make up as much as 40 percent of Republican caucus-goers in the first-in-the-nation voting on Jan. 3.
Without mentioning Thompson's name, Huckabee told a crowd of about 100 here that a rival appeared on a news program Sunday and distanced himself from proposed constitutional amendments that would ban abortion and gay marriage, both cherished goals of many social conservatives.
Thompson said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that states should be able to make their own laws: "That's what freedom is all about ...at the end of the day, if a state legislature and a governor decide that that's what they want to do, yes, they should have the freedom to do what Fred Thompson thinks is a very bad idea."
When Huckabee, who supports both proposed constitutional amendments, questioned those statements earlier this week, Thompson said, "It's the only conservative position he's got" and accused Huckabee of being "one of the highest-taxing governors that we had in this country."
Huckabee responded sharply Thursday, saying, "You cannot say it's a moral decision, but morality differs within each of the states. ...You can't say I'm pro-life philosophically, then say it's up to the states."
"These are deep decisions ... that get to the root and heart and soul of the kind of civilization we have," Huckabee said.
Speaking to reporters later, Huckabee said Thompson's accusations on taxes "are on their face just not true."
Huckabee did raise some taxes in Arkansas, including some increases approved by voter referendums, but reduced other taxes 94 times.
The tit-for-tat between the two candidates comes as the campaign heats up in Iowa, with less than two months before the winnowing begins at the caucuses here.
Recent polls show Huckabee and Thompson battling for second place in Iowa, along with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. All trail former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who's advertised heavily. Giuliani, who supports abortion rights, and Romney, who did until recently, are viewed warily by many social conservatives.
Huckabee is surging in recent polls, with a strong grassroots campaign, while Thompson touts himself as the race's "consistent conservative" in a new television ad.
Huckabee's Iowa campaign chairman, Bob Vander Plaats, insisted that the campaign doesn't see Thompson as Huckabee's chief rival.
"There are points in any campaign when a candidate gets tired of the misrepresentations," Vander Plaats said. "Huckabee let the truth out today."