January 02, 2012

Major GOP candidates spread out across Iowa ahead of caucus

By Philip Rucker, Felicia Sonmez and David A. Fahrenthold, Monday, January 2

DAVENPORT, Iowa — Republican presidential hopefuls began their last dashes across Iowa on Monday morning, as a chaotic caucus season ended with three very different men battling for first place.
One day before Tuesday’s caucuses, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s agenda includes four cities, spread over 269 miles. Former senator Rick Santorum (Pa.) will drive a 171-mile circuit around Iowa’s navel. And Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.), the third front-runner, will make a long trek across the state’s Northeast, making five stops over 391 miles.

The day will be an illustration of Iowa’s peculiar circus — which requires the people who would lead a country of 312 million to campaign in towns measured in hundreds or thousands.

“This is an election about the soul of America,” Romney told a couple of hundred supporters at the fairground in Davenport on Monday morning. “Are we going to remain America, the shining city on a hill, with freedom and opportunity, or are we going to become something we couldn’t recognize? And that’s what I think this election is going to come down to.”
The crowd for Romney, gathered in a gymnasium, was smaller than the overflow crowds that had greeted him in recent days. Romney and his supporters hammered home the message that has helped him gain ground in Iowa.
The main goal is beating President Obama in November, they said. And Romney is the man to do it.
“I sense something happening as we’ve been going across Iowa,” Ann Romney, the candidate’s wife, told the crowd. “I sense a feeling, a coalescing, a momentum or whatever it is you want to call it, around Mitt. And I think people are starting to figure out that this is the guy that is going to beat Barack Obama.”
Over the past few months, Iowa embraced and then rejected four charismatic front-runners: Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.), Perry, pizza executive Herman Cain and former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.).

Now, the state seems set to split its vote among three candidates chosen, instead, for the ideas they represent.
For Romney, those are steadiness and electability. For Paul, they are small government and personal liberty. And Santorum’s appeal is based on his socially conservative views on issues such as abortion and gay marriage.
“My surge is going to come on January 3 after the people of Iowa do what they do, which is actually analyze the candidates, figure out where their positions are, find out who’s the right leader, who’s got what it takes to defeat Barack Obama and to lead this country,” Santorum said Sunday on “Meet the Press.”

Now, with just a day to go, nearly half of Iowa voters have not yet made up their minds.
The biggest question of Tuesday night might not be who wins — Romney, Paul and Santorum would all gain momentum from a top-three finish — but who loses. And how badly.
For limping candidates like Perry, Gingrich and Bachmann, a dismal showing could set off a chain reaction of bad news. Lower fundraising. Less advertising. And other disappointments in the upcoming primaries in New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Both Perry and Bachmann have relatively light schedules on Monday: three stops for Perry, two for Bachmann. Gingrich has four events, including two in Davenport, where Romney made his case earlier on Monday.

Staff writer Nia-Malika Henderson also contributed to this report.

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