THE NOTE: How the Huck's Stealing Iowa

Romney, R-Mass., and Giuliani, R-N.Y., are knotted at 20, with Huckabee at 17 and John McCain at 14. Among the Democrats, it's 45-23-13 in that familiar Clinton-Obama-Edwards order, with Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., and Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, tied for fourth at 4 (if you don't count "note sure" as a candidate).

(And Obama's got to love the head-to-heads. Harwood writes: "The poll shows Mr. Obama leading Mr. Giuliani by a larger margin than Mrs. Clinton does -- a change from early November, when the data suggested they would both fare about the same against him. Against Mr. Huckabee, Mr. Obama leads by 48% to 36%, while Mrs. Clinton has a narrow 46% to 44% edge.")

Romney -- out with a holiday ad that makes no reference to the holidays -- is opening a new front in his battle with Huckabee.

Keying off of Huckabee's Foreign Affairs essay, Romney is embracing President Bush. "I think that Governor Huckabee made a significant error in insulting the president as being subject to an arrogant bunker mentality," he said Wednesday, per ABC's John Berman.

Berman reports: "Romney seems to be playing the expectations game, trying to cushion the blow if he loses here [in Iowa]. This, even though he has spent more time and MUCH more money in Iowa than Huckabee."

And when he's not blasting Huckabee, Romney's more likely to talk about his business record than core conservative issues, "a subtle but significant shift from the far more ideological frame that has often been at the forefront of the campaign," Michael Luo writes in The New York Times.

"The change speaks to the campaign's broader strategy in its final push to slice away supporters from Mike Huckabee in Iowa and bolster Mr. Romney's lead in New Hampshire."

Huckabee tells ABC's Jake Tapper that he doesn't plan to respond in-kind (or not-so-kind) to Romney. "I don't plan to fight with him. He's throwing punches and I'm saying, 'Merry Christmas,' " Huckabee said.

"Because most people go to the mailbox and they want some nice comfortable Christmas cards that say, 'Peace on Earth, Goodwill towards Man,' not 'Here's a hammer, let's crack this fellow's kneecaps.' I mean, it's unbecoming."

But in not attacking, Huckabee is sort of going on the attack. Tapper notices "some of the strongest language he's ever used -- words such as 'ruthless,' 'dishonest,' 'desperate' " -- as Huckabee discusses Romney on the trail.

Says Huckabee: "You need to look at this with some sense of sympathy. . . . Here's a guy who has outspent me 20-to-1 here, and he's behind."

His defense on clemencies has grown aggressive as well, as he repeats the tale of the veteran who wanted a BB-gun conviction from when he was 13 expunged so he could become a police officer. (Romney twice turned down the requests.)

"When I'm president, just like when I'm governor, I'm going to act in the best interest like that's your kid out there. I'd rather think of the future of your kid than the next race I'm fighting," Huckabee said, per the Des Moines Register's Lisa Rossi.

The Weekly Standard's Dean Barnett takes apart Huckabee's Foreign Affairs treatise. "In one part of the essay, Huckabee somberly intoned that 'Sun-tzu's ancient wisdom is relevant today: "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer."

The only problem with citing this ancient piece of wisdom is that it comes not from Sun Tzu, but Michael Corleone.

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