Republican presidential hopefuls made 11th-hour pitches to Iowa voters yesterday, seeking a decisive “boost” over their rivals on the eve of the first contest of this year’s election campaign.
Mitt Romney — who portrays himself as the strongest candidate to beat US President Barack Obama in November’s elections — has retaken a thin lead in the heartland state before Iowans cast the first ballots of the Republican nominating process today.
“I can’t tell you who’s going to win this thing,” Romney, a former Massachusetts governor and millionaire venture capitalist, said after chatting and shaking hands with scores of people in a packed diner in Atlantic.
“But I do believe that I’m going to have a great deal of support and that that will give me the kind of boost I need as I go into a season of [contests in] a number of other states,” he said. “This is a process that begins here.”
Romney has made little secret that he hopes a strong showing in the nominating caucuses in Iowa, coupled with a victory in New Hampshire a week later, could help him lock up the nomination early in the state-by-state process of picking a standard-bearer.
However, with four in 10 Iowans telling pollsters they could still change their minds, veteran US Representative Ron Paul of Texas stands within striking distance of Romney.
“I may come in first, I may come in second. I doubt I’ll come in third or fourth,” Paul, known for anti-interventionist and libertarian views that have drawn heavy fire from his rivals for the party’s nomination, told CNN.
And firebrand social conservative Rick Santorum’s support was surging as Iowa’s evangelical Christians, a critical Republican bloc, seemed to be rallying behind the former senator from the battleground state of Pennsylvania.
“Our support is rising here, but there’s two more days and there’s a lot of work to be done,” he said at a rally in Sioux City.
The Des Moines Register’s final poll before the caucus found Romney with 24 percent support, Paul at 22 percent, Santorum at 15 but rising and 41 percent of likely voters saying they could still change their minds.
The survey found 12 percent support for former House of Representatives speaker Newt Gingrich, 11 percent for Texas Governor Rick Perry and seven 7 for US Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota.
“Tuesday night people are going to see a miracle,” said Bachmann, whose long-shot hopes rest heavily on Iowa. “People make their decision, quite honestly, in the caucus room.”
Experts believe she might have a point. According to the Des Moines Register poll, only 51 percent of Iowa voters have made up their mind about their preferences.
“We are going to do good on Tuesday,” Perry said on Fox News, deriding his rivals as “either Washington insiders or Wall Street insiders.”
And Gingrich — whose support has plummeted in the face of a barrage of attack ads, many by a group backing Romney — took aim at the frontrunner, charging “he would buy an election if he could.”
Romney scoffed, saying here the election “is not being driven by money raised, it’s being driven by message, connection with the voters, debates, experience.”