GOP Candidates Await Iowa Verdict
Their fate hinging on the enthusiasm of their supporters, the Republican presidential candidates prepared Tuesday for Iowa to deliver the first official reckoning in the 2012 contest after a day of sharp-elbowed politicking.
The exchanges were characteristic of the bitter tone that has pervaded the closing moments of one of history's most volatile GOP elections. With more than 40 percent of Iowans supposedly uncommitted to a candidate as of this past weekend, the campaigns approach Tuesday night's caucuses with little certainty of the outcome.
The three candidates at the top of the polls -- Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul -- took nothing for granted, holding rallies on caucus day in a final bid to get out the vote. Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann also pressed the flesh Tuesday in a last appeal to caucus-goers.
When the nearly 1,800 caucus sites open at 7 p.m. local time (8 p.m. ET), each candidate will have to rely on local supporters across Iowa to make his or her case before Iowans finally cast their ballots. Romney has found himself defending a narrow lead in the state -- after barely competing there for most of 2011. A win Tuesday night could help reaffirm his oft-threatened front-runner status, as the field heads next into New Hampshire, where Romney holds a decisive lead.
But even a second-place finish for the former Massachusetts governor could portend a more drawn-out and competitive process. Santorum and Paul, each looking for a come-from-behind win in the state, tussled on Tuesday as they tried to consolidate the not-Romney vote.
Paul has been claiming Santorum is a closet liberal, while Santorum and others say Paul is dangerous on foreign policy.
On Tuesday, Santorum called Paul "disgusting" after blaming his campaign for robo-calls that describe Santorum as too liberal on gun rights and abortion.
Paul, on Fox News, accused Santorum of trying to "deflect away" from the scrutiny his record is receiving. Paul claims Santorum's support for foreign aid is outside the conservative mainstream.
Elsewhere in Iowa, Gingrich continued to take a more aggressive tone after being battered with negative advertising and watching his once-lofty poll numbers plummet.
Asked in a CBS interview early Tuesday whether he thinks Romney is a liar, he said yes -- claiming the so-called "Super PACs" running ads against him are tied to Romney though he "pretends" he's not involved.
Romney suggested on Fox News that Gingrich is thin-skinned.
"If you can't stand the heat of this little kitchen, wait until the Hell's Kitchen which is coming from Barack Obama," Romney said.
And Perry, who like Gingrich once led the field in Iowa, tried to fire up the crowd Tuesday during a stop at his West Des Moines headquarters.
"It is a powerful moment in America's history, and you are on the front lines. This is Concord, this is Omaha Beach," Perry said. Despite flagging in the polls, Perry's campaign is making plans to chart a post-Iowa course. The Perry campaign confirmed to Fox News on Tuesday that it has bought TV time in South Carolina, which holds the first-in-the-South primary -- one that historically has been far more accurate at picking eventual GOP nominees than Iowa.
Romney, for his part, predicted a day earlier that he would pull off a win in Iowa. The statement marked a turnaround from his earlier campaign strategy, which all but discounted Iowa in favor of New Hampshire.
Romney told Fox News on Tuesday that he's prepared to take on President Obama.
"We created more jobs in Massachusetts than this president created in this entire country," Romney told Fox News. "We'll be comparing my record with his record, and he comes up very short."
Santorum, who unlike Romney was committed to Iowa from the start of his campaign and visited all 99 counties, said he has the essential ingredients headed into the evening's endeavor.
"Caucuses are about enthusiasm and momentum, and we certainly have enthusiasm and momentum," he said.
But Bachmann, an Iowa native and the candidate casting herself as the only real conservative in the race, said she has traveled 6,900 miles in the Hawkeye State alone and has the backing of 200 pastors.
Aside from former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman who is not competing in Iowa, Bachmann has performed the worst in recent caucus polling. But Bachmann claims Iowans are quietly returning to her camp.
"I think we're going to surprise a lot of people here tonight," she said, claiming "soft, hidden support" will reveal itself at the voting sites.
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