It's a strange feeling, but it's genuine — I am suddenly feeling sorry for Mitt Romney.

At their final reunion before the Iowa caucuses, the GOP presidential contenders sat through an exceedingly dull "debate" Wednesday, sponsored by The Des Moines Register, in which everyone assumed Romney would do anything short of slitting the throat of Mike Huckabee. Romney has spent nearly two years saturating the Hawkeye State, only to watch Huckabee achieve better results in one month, and needs to stop Huck's momentum before it spells his end.

But he chose to leave Huckabee alone and make the case for his own merit. In the only interesting part of the session, in which candidates were permitted "free" moments when they could say whatever they wanted, Romney complimented Iowans for making his family feel so welcome, and asked outright for their vote. He smiled his gorgeous, aw-shucks grin and was the picture of grace and humility.

Earlier this week all eyes were on Romney's ad comparing his position on immigration to Huckabee's. It was the first "negative" ad of the campaign, said all. But I didn't think so. Romney went out of his way to praise Huckabee as a good family man and used specific policy proposals to draw a contrast on this toxic issue. The ad never crossed the line, and spoke to a voter priority without attacking — I was impressed.

Earlier this month Romney gave his long-anticipated speech about his "faith," and also impressed me with his political savvy — assuaging evangelicals without upsetting them by trying to sound just like them — but focusing instead on the importance of religion and faith in public life, just the message the target audience hungers to hear. Romney looked and sounded calm and commanding, not as if he was cajoling and not as if he was desperate. Romney was presidential.

Today when the news broke that Huckabee, the top-tier novice, had suggested Mormons believe Satan and Jesus were brothers, Romney again stayed cool. He said attacking someone's religion is "just not the American way, and I think people will reject that." But he was also kind. When asked if Huckabee was speaking in code to evangelicals, Romney resisted any temptation and said Huckabee is "a good man trying to do the best he can."

My hat is off to Mitt.


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