From NBC/NJ's Erin McPike
DES MOINES, IA -- Romney's already got the ways of Washington down, even if he is selling himself as an outsider governor who can bring wide-ranging change to the broken Beltway.
With a tongue-in-cheek gust of vanity, he noted in his speech before the employees at Principle Financial Group here that Huckabee's campaign chairman said yesterday he'd like to knock Romney's teeth out. "My only comment on that is: Don't touch the hair," he counterpunched to laughter.
There's been some dialogue in recent days about the degree to which Romney is bellying up to President Bush in the hopes of grabbing big swaths of the Bush base, or whether he is trying to distance himself by offering criticisms of the president's handling of Iraq after the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime. Closer scrutiny of his comments on energy independence reveals a can-do approach that indirectly pokes at Bush's 2006 State Of The Union address in which the president dramatically declared that Americans are "addicted to oil."
Discussing energy today, Romney sounded the clarion call that: "It's time for us to stop using the rhetoric or political speak about becoming less dependent on foreign oil and finally actually putting in place a strategy which puts us on a track to becoming energy independent."
Romney's own energy seems to be dragging today, as he didn't deliver some of his big applause lines with the same zeal that he usually does. But he used the values jargon so crucial to the Iowa Republican base in this, one of the last speeches he'll give before Iowans caucus tonight: "Most of us are family-oriented. Americans love families. We marry, we have kids, we give them the values we think are important."
Asked by an audience member if he will continue the attack ads that directly pinpoint his opponents if he gets to the general election, he answered, "Absolutely. You can bet that we're going talk about the differences on issues." He added, "And one thing I'm also going to point out -- particularly in the Republican campaign -- I'm not going to attack the character of the other people I'm running against." But shifting back a bit he said, "You're not going to hear me saying that somebody else is dishonorable or dishonest or that they're not smart or that they're not wise. I'm not going to do that."
Despite Romney's gloves-on, go-to-the-mattresses speak for the Republican cause, he offered his double-sided pitch on how Democrats are wrong on the issues but how he has the ability to work across the aisle. "I learned that the only way I could do things was on a collaborative basis," he said of his time as governor of Massachusetts. And he went on about the Democrats he worked with in the Bay State: "We had dinners with our wives; we had a personal relationship of trust."
Still, he ended: "Washington will have to change or it will be sweep the bums out. And no one wants that to happen in Washington at least," with Republican Sens. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Robert Bennett of Utah and Wayne Allard of Colorado supporting him in the front row.