It's an opening salvo of the presidential campaign, minus actual presidential nominees.
Vice President Biden unleashed a biting critique of Mitt Romney's policies Friday and the Republican came swiftly back at him -- a full-contact preview of what the general election might look like should Romney win the GOP nomination to challenge President Obama.
All this, before a vote is cast in the Republican race. The Iowa caucuses, looming Jan. 3, are the first step in the voting to pick a Republican nominee.
In an opinion piece published in the Des Moines Register, Biden portrayed the Republican front-runner as the purveyor of failed, retreaded economic ideas.
"Romney appears satisfied to settle for an economy in which fewer people succeed, while the majority of Americans are left to tread water or fall behind," Biden wrote.
Biden said Romney's proposals for the economy "would actually double down on the policies that caused the greatest economic calamity since the Great Depression and accelerated a decades-long assault on the middle class."
"Romney also misleadingly suggests that the president and I are creating an 'Entitlement Society,' whereby government provides everything for its people without regard to merit, as opposed to what he calls an Opportunity Society,' where everything is merit-based and every man is left to fend for himself," Biden wrote.
Romney, speaking at the Tilt'n Diner, quickly countered that it was Obama who is hurting the country and expressed astonishment that Biden would have the "chutzpah the delusion" to write such a piece.
"This president and his policies have made it harder on the American people and on the middle class," he said. "And I don't think they get it. I don't think they understand from fantasyland what's happening in real America. They need to get out to diners like this."
The Obama team may be betting on Romney, but his Republican rivals were conceding no such ground.
Campaigning in South Carolina, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich derided Romney as a "Massachusetts moderate trying to come down and pretend to be a conservative. But I'm not going to say anything stronger than that. I'm going to focus on positive things."