Romney’s Willie Horton Moment

What is it with Massachusetts governors and convicted killers?

Back in 1988, a hapless Michael Dukakis buckled after George H.W. Bush managed to turn a murder committed Willie Horton, a convict released under a Massachusetts furlough program, into a major campaign issue. (See Bush’s famous political ad here .) Now Mitt Romney is trying to beat a similar rap.

Romney’s opponents pounced last week after Daniel Tavares, a murderer released from prison in Massachusetts after serving 16 years for killing his mother with a carving knife, was arrested again for killing a couple in Washington. Now why, you may ask, is this Romney’s fault? It turns out that Kathe Tuttman, the superior court judge who approved Tavares’ release, was appointed by Gov. Romney in 2006.

Romney quickly called for Tuttman’s resignation, but not so quickly that Rudy Giuliani couldn’t beat him over the head with it. On Saturday, Giuliani said that “it’s not an isolated situation” and that “the reality is, he did not have a record of reducing violent crime” as governor. Romney’s camp fired back: “[T]he fact is under Governor Romney violent crime in Massachusetts decreased and he had a strong record of appointing law and order judges.”

Tavares isn’t likely to cripple Romney the way Horton did Dukakis. For starters, Dukakis continued to defend the furlough program under which Horton had been released. Romney, in contrast, came right out and denounced the judge’s decision. Also, the Horton flap drew attention to the death penalty, a major campaign issue that hurt Dukakis even more when he gave a seemingly emotionless response to a question about what he would do if his wife were raped and murdered. This latest tiff may well carry over into Wednesday’s debate, but I don’t see it dogging Romney into January.

For Giuliani, of course, this stuff is catnip. In one clean motion, he gets to attack Romney’s judgment, remind conservative voters that Romney was governor of Massachusetts, and bring up his own crime-fighting record for the 742,118 th time. He’s on fire !