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Foreign policy gaffes plague Huckabee

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  • NEW: Aide admits that Huckabee has "no foreign policy credentials"
  • NEW: Campaign official suggested tying Pakistan crisis to immigration issue
  • Huckabee appeared not to know that martial law had been lifted in Pakistan
  • Gaffes will have little effect on support for populist candidate, analyst says
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PELLA, Iowa (CNN) -- A senior aide to Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee admitted Friday that the former Arkansas governor had "no foreign policy credentials" after his comments reacting to the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto raised questions.

During an event Friday in Pella, Iowa, Huckabee said the crisis sparked by Bhutto's death should lead to a crackdown on illegal immigrants from Pakistan.

The Huckabee official told CNN that when he said that, Huckabee was trying to turn attention away from scrutiny of his foreign policy knowledge.

Huckabee's foreign policy credentials have been under a microscope since the candidate admitted that he was unaware of an intelligence report that Iran had suspended its nuclear weapons program earlier this month.

"In light of what happened in Pakistan yesterday, it's interesting that there are more Pakistanis who have illegally crossed the border than of any other nationality except for those immediately south of our border," Huckabee said Friday.

Americans might "look halfway around the world and say, 'How does that affect me?' ... We need to understand that violence and terror is significant when it happens in Pakistan, [and] it's more significant if it can happen in our own cities. And it happens if people can slip across our border and we have no control over them."

"The immigration issue is not so much about people coming to pick lettuce or make beds, it's about people who could come with a shoulder-fired missile and could do serious damage and harm to us," Huckabee said, "and that's what we need to be worried about."

The Huckabee official said he told Huckabee that his reaction to the crisis in Pakistan will be the story for the next several days, and until he is "briefed and up to speed" on Pakistan, a good place for Huckabee to draw the line is on illegal immigration. Video Watch a report about the 'surprising tactic' »

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"Why does Rudy Giuliani get more credentials on homeland security than you do? You've been a governor," the Huckabee campaign official said he told the candidate.

The campaign official admitted that Huckabee's tough immigration talk is also aimed at helping him win male GOP voters in Iowa -- a bloc the official concedes the campaign has been losing ground with.

Huckabee said 660 Pakistanis entered the country illegally last year. When asked by a reporter the source for that statistic, Huckabee appeared unsure, saying, "Those are numbers that I got today from a briefing, and I believe they are CIA and immigration numbers." The Huckabee campaign later said the figure came from a March 2006 report by The Denver Post.

But the Border Patrol told CNN on Friday that it apprehended only "a handful" of illegal immigrants from Pakistan in 2007.

The number of illegal immigrants from Pakistan deported or apprehended is not mentioned in the latest report from the Department of Homeland Security/Office of Immigration Statistics. In 2005, the nation did not make the list of the top 10 sources of illegal immigrants. The previous year, Pakistan was the last country listed, but no specific numbers were given.

Huckabee is the GOP front-runner in Iowa, according to most polls. A Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll conducted December 20-23 and 26 has Huckabee leading former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney 36 percent to 28 percent among likely caucus goers. The poll's margin of error was plus or minus 7 percentage points.

As the campaigns enter the final stretch before the Iowa caucuses on January 3, Romney has gone on the attack against Huckabee, particularly focusing on his record on illegal immigration issues while he was Arkansas governor.

Huckabee's Friday comments on immigration came after he appeared to make another gaffe Thursday, when he seemed to suggest incorrectly that Pakistan was under martial law. Video Watch Huckabee's response to Bhutto's assassination »

While commenting on Bhutto's death during an Orlando, Florida, press conference, Huckabee told reporters that the United States' first priority should be to find the responsible parties.

"But the most urgent thing to do is to offer our sincere sympathies and concerns to the family and to the people of Pakistan, and that's the first thing we would be doing other than, again, trying to ascertain who's behind it, and what impact does it have on whether or not there's going to be martial law continued in Pakistan, suspension of the constitution," Huckabee said. "Those are concerns that the United States certainly should have."

Later Thursday, at an event in West Des Moines, Iowa, Huckabee told CNN that "it was not that I was unaware it was suspended, two weeks ago, lifted. ...The point was, would it be reinstated, would it be placed back in? All of the aspects of martial law have not been completely lifted even now. There's still a heavy hand Musharraf has used."

Conservative critics immediately pointed out that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf lifted the country's state of martial law roughly two weeks ago.

The slip "ought to be really bad news for Huckabee," said the National Review's Jim Geraghty, writing on the magazine's Web site. "I'm not sure how big assassination-related news will play in the first primary states. Still, I think those misstatements will exacerbate the Huck/Not Huck divide in GOP circles." The National Review has endorsed Romney.


But CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider said the debate over whether Huckabee has command of the nuances of the Pakistan crisis would have little impact on his support.

"Mike Huckabee is a populist. His comments on Pakistan reflect a populist understanding of the crisis, which, is to say, not much," Schneider said. "Sure, the political establishment is snickering, but I doubt that his misstatements bother his supporters much." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Dana Bash and Rebecca Sinderbrand contributed to this report.

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