ATLANTIC, Iowa (AP) — For Mitt Romney, it's another day, another rival.
On Sunday, he slapped at the surging Rick Santorum.
"Our backgrounds are quite different," Romney told reporters, who were crowded into a back room at the Family Table Restaurant. "Like Speaker Gingrich, Senator Santorum has spent his career in the government in Washington. Nothing wrong with that. But it's a very different background than I have."
He then called Santorum a good guy who has worked hard and probably will do well in Tuesday's caucuses. The mild criticism was an attempt to stoke doubts about his latest opponent without angering — or alienating — his supporters.
Like other recent comments about his rivals, Romney had to be asked to engage. His comments came in response to a question about how he would persuade voters to back him over the former Pennsylvania senator.
A lot can change in just a few days here. The race to win the approval of Iowa Republicans is as unsettled as ever in a contest that has seen every contender at the front of the pack at one point or another.
That so many have held the frontrunner title says a lot about the lack of enthusiasm for Romney. He's been running for president for the better part of five years, but he still doesn't excite the GOP base.
Late last week, Romney had to field questions about an ascendant Ron Paul. Before that, it was the rising Newt Gingrich. A few months ago, Rick Perry.
And through it all, Romney has delivered the same optimistic campaign speech that all but ignores his GOP rivals. Instead, Romney praises America and attacks President Barack Obama before large crowds.
"I don't think I've spent a lot of time trying to describe differences on policy and detail on myself and the other candidates, but instead I focus on the things I believe," Romney said Sunday.