From NBC/NJ's Erin McPike
DUBUQUE, Iowa -- With a newfound confidence that was also on display yesterday but somewhat lacking on Friday and Saturday, Romney smiled and laughed his way through a news conference with reporters this morning after his first campaign stop in Bellevue, Iowa.
He began by expressing the critical nature of pardons and commutations -- something he's been hitting Huckabee over the head with -- and informed reporters that he established a 10-to 12-page set of guidelines for issuing them as governor and said he would do the same as president. And indirectly hitting Huckabee, he added: "Clearly the importance of this topic suggests as we consider something of this nature that we do so on a thorough and complete and comprehensive level, and we don't make pardons on a capricious and arbitrary basis."
His first question centered on Huckabee's counterattacks on pardons and Romney's strictness on the issue. "I guess that if I were Gov. Huckabee, I don't know that I'd be raising the issue of commutations and pardons," Romney responded. "A record of 1,033 pardons and commutations, and so far as I know, without any guidelines -- simply done on the basis of what he may have thought was appropriate. It's not a process which should be pursued nationally." Despite previous attempts to tie McCain to Democrats on taxes, Giuliani to Democrats on social issues, and now mentioning former President Clinton in his opening remarks, Romney told reporters later in the session that he had no intention of drawing a parallel between Clinton and Huckabee.
As Romney's chief competitor in the Hawkeye State, Huckabee has been giving Romney a run for his money -- literally. But Romney's boundless optimism seems to correspond to narrowing polls that show him within striking distance, if not in the lead, of the former Arkansas governor.
Asked if he has internal data showing a rise, he said, "You know as I go across Iowa, it's very clear, I see person after person who comes up to me and says, 'Look I was uncertain of what I was going to be coming out of this, but I've been watching the last few days, and I'm with you.' And I hear that time and time again. My people are hearing that."
And although he said he wouldn't forecast the outcome in Iowa, he said in the same sentence that he thinks he will ultimately be victorious in the state.
After Obama spent some time yesterday contrasting himself with Romney, Romney's camp shot back with an attack on his fiscal policy. Asked about that this morning, Romney laughed and said "Oh good." And then of Obama's attack on him today, he said, "I heard." He chuckled and said, "This vicious campaign; he's got to stop. Barack Obama said I'm not as tall as he is. And this has just got to stop."
He called Obama "a good guy" but said he hadn't heard Obama's comments about him on immigration and went on to discuss his agenda on the issue.
NOTE: One thing that's hardly a surprise? Romney won't be releasing any data about his fourth-quarter fundraising until the middle of January -- after the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary are things of the past. "I'm not going to be putting together forecasts and announcements until they're required by the government," he said.