From NBC/NJ's Erin McPike
JOHNSTON, Iowa -- As Romney winds his way in and around Des Moines today at "house party huddles" with his supporters, it's Huckabee who is really on his mind.
"Elections are fun, but they are also serious things. And we face extraordinary challenges in our country today," Romney said at his first event in Ankeny this morning. And he made the same point again at the next stop. It's a poke in Huckabee's direction given his rival's last-minute decision not to run an attack ad on Romney yesterday -- but to still show it to the press -- which Romney called "confusing" and "puzzling" yesterday afternoon, and he noted instead that he's running a "serious campaign."
Asked if he thought Huckabee's bait-and-switch was dishonest, Romney said that "It does remind you a bit of person who stands up and says I'm not gonna call my opponent any names, but here's the names I'd call him if I were gonna call him names. And what he did yesterday didn't fool the media, and I don't think it'll fool the people of Iowa, either."
But it's not just campaign tactics that have Romney counterpunching Huckabee. In fact, he opened a press conference this morning with his disappointment in Huckabee for suggesting that President Bush lacks depth in national foreign policy knowledge. "The president has kept us safe over these last six years and is extraordinarily well-versed in matters of foreign policy," he said. He added, "I'm not sure whether Gov. Huckabee did the attack as a joke, but this is not a time to be mocking our president. And it was I think in bad taste."
Like he's done with Giuliani and McCain, he tied Huckabee to Democrats by saying, "This is the kind of stuff you expect of the Democrats, but it's certainly not something you'd expect of a presidential contender on the Republican side."
Romney has said repeatedly that he doesn't want to make predictions, but he's still pretty certain that he's going to finish first or second in the Hawkeye State's caucuses. With the news of three new state polls out this morning that have him either ahead, behind or tied with Huckabee for the top spot, he offered only: "It just points out that this one is just too close to call, and I think it's going to get decided on Thursday in a way that will probably surprise all of us."
And while Huckabee was off Sunday shooting the ad that he ultimately halted, Romney has been barnstorming the state -- he had five stops on that day, with six each on the preceding two days. He's already held three jam-packed house parties today and has another four to go.
Beyond Iowa, Huckabee may have a hard time competing with Romney as a consequence of campaign funds, which Romney has a surplus of due to his personal wealth. And asked today if had donated again this quarter, he said, "I'm sure I made some additional contribution."