COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa (AP) _ The founder of the Minuteman Project, the anti-illegal immigrant group, endorsed Republican Mike Huckabee on Tuesday, while Huckabee dismissed a presidential rival's immigration criticism as the work of ``the tattletale in the third grade.''
At a news conference hastily arranged to cope with a crippling ice storm, Huckabee brought out Minuteman head Jim Gilchrist, whose private group patrols the Mexican border on its own to keep out illegal immigrants.
``For months now, I've been searching for a candidate to support for president of the United States,'' said Gilchrist. He said he settled on Huckabee as the candidate whose plans were most likely to halt ``this illegal immigrant invasion problem.''
Huckabee has soared in the polls recently, jumping into the lead in Iowa where caucuses in less than a month launch the presidential nominating season. Rival Romney, who has spent millions in the state and for months was the leader, began running a TV ad Tuesday assailing Huckabee on immigration.
``It's the first one of the season and we're honored to be in the middle of it,'' said Huckabee. ``I think the people of Iowa, who have been through this so many times, will vote for somebody who has a plan for the future of America, not just somebody who is looking around and saying, like the tattletale in third grade, 'let me tell you what this guy is doing.'''
``We didn't like it when we were in the third grade, I don't think we like it electing a president either,'' said Huckabee.
Asked to clarify his comparison to a third-grader, Huckabee opted to repeat it.
``When all of us were in school there was usually in the class somebody who loved to tattle,'' said Huckabee. ``Usually the tattler is not the most popular kid in the classroom. When the person who runs for office becomes sort of the class tattler, that doesn't necessarily make people endeared to them.''
In the ad, Romney says his record and Huckabee's are alike in many ways.
``The difference? Mitt Romney stood up and vetoed in-state tuition for illegal aliens, opposed driver's licenses for illegals. Mike Huckabee? Supported in-state tuition benefits for illegal immigrants. Huckabee even supported taxpayer-funded scholarships for illegal aliens. On immigration, the choice matters.''
Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, said Tuesday, ``The federal government has completely and miserably failed in dealing with this issue. During the time that I was governor, we were dealing with, in essence, the fallout from that failure.''
He described Gilchrist as ``a person who just got fed up with what he saw as a breakdown of his own government.''
``Since October of 2004 he's been one of the leading voices in this country trying to bring sanity to an issue that's spiraled,'' said Huckabee.
He defended his own decision as governor to allow education assistance to children of illegal immigrants: ``You don't punish a child for the crime a parent commits.''
He said last week that as president he would seal the Mexican border, hire more agents to patrol it and make illegal immigrants go home before they could apply to return to this country.
Huckabee was forced to cancel much of his schedule for Tuesday because of the snow and ice, but made it into Council Bluffs for the news conference and headed to a campaign event in Des Moines later in the day.