ATLANTIC, Iowa -- On this latest stop in his look-how-many-people-we-packed-into-a-diner tour, Mitt Romney met an a relatively small number of Iowans and stopped briefly to take reporter's questions. The first question, from CBS News, revealed that Newt Gingrich's constant attacks on Romney's money are still part of the narrative. Gingrich said Romney would "buy the election if he could." What did he have to say for himself?
"Let's see," started Romney. "Speaker Gingrich, I think announced that he raised $10 million this quarter. And he ought to be proud of that! We're working hard to raise funds as well. This is an election, however, that's not being driven by money raised. It's being driven by message, and connection with voters, and debates. Experience. I think those are the features that are driving the campaign so far, and I think they will be through the entire process."
If Gingrich raised $10 million this quarter, he raised half of what the pro-Romney Super PAC Restore Our Future raised through 2011. Plenty of that was dumped on Iowa. Romney's best quarter was $18 million; he promised that Q4 would be his "best yet."
When I say that Romney didn't get to talk to many Iowans, all I mean is that the Family Table restaurant (a small chain that Romney has blitzed in other towns) became a magnet for tourists who had to had to had to meet Romney. A group of Alabamans told Romney cheerily that they'd helped him make the ballot there in 2008, then got photos with him. An Iowa farmer, David Denn, was less impressed.
"Well, we have to make sure they play on a level playing field, they follow the rules," said Romney. "I want to make sure they don't cheat and kill businesses in this country."
Denn shook Romney's hand, then told me the answer was merely "fair."
"I wanted to hear more about how we're going to protect what we have," he explained. Romney's answer was overly political for him. But do you know who answered the question well? Newt Gingrich.