From NBC/NJ's Erin McPike
MUSCATINE -- After a town hall meeting here where Romney stressed his record of fiscal conservatism with an ever-evolving and graphically improving PowerPoint presentation on fiscal issues, he acknowledged that he is now an underdog in Iowa and called Huckabee the front-runner.
"In New Hampshire, I'm in a stronger position there -- it depends on the state, but in this state right here, based on what we're seeing, yeah, he's the guy in front," he told reporters.
He also expanded his attacks on the former Arkansas governor to include Huckabee's record on crime – new to the mix of issues for criticism in public appearances.
"I think as people look at the pardons and commutations -- over 1,000 pardons and commutations, 12 murderers being pardoned," Romney said incredulously, then added, "I think people in Iowa will say that's unacceptable." He went on to describe his own record and said that "the number of pardons and commutations I gave was zero."
Reporters pressed Romney on how he differs with Huckabee and asked why he didn't go after him harder in the Des Moines Register debate yesterday, but he cited the debate format and said it was focused on issues. But he went on: "You know I'm happy to talk about the differences between myself and Mike Huckabee. I frankly think that the more people come to know Mike Huckabee, the more they realize they don't know about Mike Huckabee."
During the question-and-answer period with voters, the first question came from an 11-year-old home-schooled student named Sarah Myers, who asked what he thought of the practice. In the last few weeks, it's become increasingly clear that Huckabee has been able to drum up support with the home-schooling community, and he anecdotally was able to do so even before his surge caught on. The questioner's mother, Christy, said later that she liked Romney's answer -- which was that he supports it and thinks that those who home-school should get a tax credit -- but she said she's supporting Fred Thompson and is a volunteer of his in Muscatine.
As a mother who home-schools, Myers said she has tried to take her three daughters to see all of the Republican candidates and has ultimately liked all of their answers on the topic because they all support it. Interestingly enough, she doesn't favor Huckabee due to what she insinuated was his weak stance on illegal immigration.