Resurging Romney Battles Rival Huckabee In Iowa

This story was written by Dean Treftz, The Daily Iowan
The scene may have been symbolic only two weeks ago.

On a lonely white stretch of Highway 20 in the middle of a blustery and cold Monday, a white sport utility vehicle with Arkansas plates and a sticker for Republican presidential-nomination hopeful Mike Huckabee steadily passed the caravan of Huckabee's chief rival, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, including the candidate and his RV, the "Mitt Mobile."

Coincidentally, just as the Huck-u-vee's rear bumper cleared the Mitt Mobile's left turn signal, a banner ripped off the right side of the RV, forcing the Romney troupe to stop on the shoulder as the SUV continued on towards Cedar Falls.

Leading into Christmas, it could have been an apt display of the surging Huckabee campaign's bypass of the long-leading campaign. But recent polls, while muddled, are indicating a resurgent Romney and a probable dead-heat.

Now, if anything, the scene on the highway is indicative of how the candidates are crisscrossing the state to convince enough voters to come out of Iowa with some momentum after Thursday's caucuses.

Romney made two of his pitches Monday in a steakhouse in Manchester and an art gallery in Waterloo.

He spoke on issues ranging from illegal immigration to the necessity of marriage before childbirth after craning his head to look at the spray-painted depiction of the Sistine Chapel's ceiling hanging over him and the 50 or so packed into the small storefront Galleria de Paco in downtown Waterloo.

"I spent my life learning how the business world works," Romney said. "I've learned something about turning around bad situations."

Tom McGown, who was among the Waterloo crowd said he's supporting Romney because of his vetoes while governor of Massachusetts and his strong stance on the law.

"I kind of liked Huckabee too, but I got to thinking that Huckabee was a little too lax on crime and immigration," he said.

McGown added that he was partially influenced by negative information that surfaced about the former Arkansas governor after his swift rise in the polls.

The outcome of the caucus likely rests with the remaining undecided voters - like Julie Thompson of Strawberry Point.

She has culled her options down to Sen. John McCain and Romney and will make her decision based on a range of criteria including electability.

"I'm always thinking about the general election," she said after Romney's speech in Manchester.

A day later and several hundred miles to the southwest, Huckabee made his last appearance on Tuesday in West Des Moines' Val Air Ballroom, light-hearted, delivering only a short speech before introducing actor Chuck Norris and playing several songs on the bass with his band, "Capitol Offense."

Huckabee told a crowd on Tuesday that with a caucus win they would make history. "Nobody has ever been outspent 20 to 1 or ... has ever had this unbelievable force that has risen up against us [and won]," he said.

Throughout the speech, Huckabee struck a moderate chord and pledged to unite the country behind him.

"First and foremost, we're not Republicans or Democrats, we're Americans," Huckabee said.

Both Romney and Huckabee refrained from criticizing each other at their respective events, despite criticism over the previous weeks in the media and in commercials.

Huckabee supporters Kyle and Sharon Selberg said they supported the Arkansas governor because he was genuine. Kyle Selberg said he trusted Huckabee to the point that even if he completely reversed positions, "he would change those positions for the right reasons."

The Selbergs said they like that Huckabee promoted a consumption tax to replace the current payroll taxes, often called the FairTax because of a group promotingthe issue by the same name.

They added that they used to like Romney as second choice but said they were turned off by a negative ad about Huckabee by Romney.

UI alum and undecided caucus-goer Susan Baldwin used the event to get a feel for Huckabee.

"Like most Iowans I waited until the last minute," she said.

Baldwin said that she's a little more conservative so she went to see Huckabee, but has seen several of the Democratic candidates as well. She added that she was going home and looking into Huckabee's platform more in-depth on his website.

"It's such an intense election that I decided I needed to get out [to learn about the candidates]," she said.

DI reporter Kelli Shaffner contributed to this article.
© 2007 The Daily Iowan via U-WIRE