MASON CITY, Iowa - As he tears through Iowa with both a fresh new lead aboard a fresh new bus, Mitt Romney's campaign schedule over the next few days belies another reality - he can't stay out of New Hampshire.
Romney's been amassing record crowds for him in the Hawkeye State over the last two days. Hundreds of voters have been turning up to see him at diners and warehouses across the state, filling the overflow rooms that are being consistently set up to house them.
Yet even though he has made clear he appreciates the support here, he's hopping back to New Hampshire to show the state where he enjoys a commanding lead that he wants it to stay that way, no matter what might happen in Iowa.
And so, while his opponents continue their pre-caucus rampages across the Hawkeye State Romney heads back east to the Granite State, where he will host a spaghetti dinner on Friday night at a VFW in Merrimack. He'll fly there after a morning rally in Iowa joined by popular New Jersey governor Chris Christie. Meanwhile, his sons Craig and Matt Romney will attend a GOP breakfast in Nashua, host a lunch and walk through downtown Keene and then attend a dinner in Nashua.
While Romney's wife Ann and Christie -- an accomplished retail campaigner who makes a pugnacious contrast to the more mild-mannered Romney -- continue campaigning on his behalf in Iowa, Romney will be hosting a breakfast on Saturday in Hampton, N.H.
Romney and his aides continue to play down the idea that they will prevail in the Iowa caucuses. "Sure, I want to win Iowa," he told reporters. "Everybody wants to win Iowa. I'm not going to predict who's going to win. I think it's too difficult to know who's going to show up to vote at the caucuses. But I want to get the support of the people of Iowa, but I also want to make sure that I get the people in New Hampshire and South Carolina and Florida."
He has been much more openly confident about New Hampshire. He told a Portsmouth crowd on Tuesday: "I want to send a message coming from New Hampshire that it's time for a new president and that Mitt Romney's the person to lead our party and take back the White House."
Once Romney returns to Iowa on New Year's Eve, however, he'll stay committed to Iowa for the next several days He'll hold at least ten events in the state - most of which are rallies, and span border to border.