On the ground in Iowa, where Republican voters will cast the first ballots of the 2012 campaign in a little more than two weeks, the spat over whose personal wealth is more legitimate strikes some partisans as unseemly.
"Iowans grow weary of this kind of sniping," said Steve Grubbs, a nonaligned Republican activist from Davenport who chaired Herman Cain's Iowa campaign. "What it really reflects more is the issue of likability, which can be very important to Iowans. When candidates get into issues like this, they risk becoming less likable."
(Recalling a farm family who purchased identical cars so neighbors wouldn't know they could afford two, Grubbs said, "Iowa has a deeply rooted history that says do not flaunt your wealth.")
Others are enjoying the dust-up, even as they claim to wince.
"You don't have to be head of the Democratic Party here to be a little embarrassed by the whole scene," said Sue Dvorsky, who is, in fact, head of the Iowa Democratic Party. "Truth be told, I would imagine that Republicans of the more normal mainstream ilk are more embarrassed than we are."
Times staff writer Maeve Reston contributed to this report.