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(For more campaign news, see ELECT.)
Dec. 30 (Bloomberg) -- Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, intensifying his late bid to win the Iowa caucuses, cast himself as an outsider battling to save the nation’s “soul.”
“I need your help, you guys,” he told several hundred voters gathered today under a cold drizzle in a supermarket parking lot in West Des Moines. “This is a real battle. It’s a battle for America. It’s a battle for the future course of America.”
After spending months pursuing a cautious strategy in a state where he was a presidential also-ran four years ago, Romney has accelerated his campaign in Iowa just days before the Jan. 3 caucuses.
His campaign said yesterday that the former Massachusetts governor would remain in Des Moines, the state capital, the morning after the caucuses for television interviews, a sign of growing confidence about his prospects in the state. In past campaigns, candidates worried about their showing in the caucuses typically have left Iowa by then to try to limit the importance placed on the outcome.
A NBC News-Marist poll released today showed Romney leading the Republican field in Iowa with 23 percent, followed Representative Ron Paul of Texas with 21 percent.
Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania had 15 percent, followed by Texas Governor Rick Perry at 14 percent, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich at 13 percent, and Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann at 6 percent. The Dec. 27-28 poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.7 percentage points.
Yesterday, Romney cast Paul as fringe candidate, unable to compete in the general election.
“Ron Paul’s not going to be our nominee,” Romney said yesterday of the Texas congressman in an interview aboard his campaign bus in Iowa with the RealClearPolitics website.
In an interview with Bloomberg News, Gingrich was also critical of Paul, suggesting that a win by him in Iowa could weaken the future importance of the state’s caucuses in the nominating process.
“It would be very good for the future of the Iowa caucuses for somebody other than Ron Paul to win,” Gingrich said. “Somebody who wins because a lot of college students show up in favor of drug legalization doesn’t exactly strengthen the idea that this is a good environment to fight in.”
Paul, in line with his libertarian philosophy, has said that he would support the legalization of drugs as a way to better regulate their sale and reduce profits reaped by violent cartels and gangs.
As he has for days, Romney at his West Des Moines event today focused his attacks on President Barack Obama, who is vacationing in Hawaii with his family over the holidays.
“We’re out in the cold and the rain and the wind because we care about America,” Romney said. “He just finished his 90th round of golf.”
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a favorite of fiscally conservative Republicans, was at the event and playfully pushed Iowa voters to back Romney.
Saying if “you people disappoint me” in the caucus vote, he added: “I will be back Jersey style, people.”
Last night, Romney rode his campaign bus into a warehouse in Ames, Iowa, where an enthusiastic crowd of about 750 people were waiting.
‘Soul of America’
Stepping off the bus as the song “Eye of the Tiger” blared, he described the election as a fight “to save the soul of America.”
As Romney’s Iowa crowds have grown, his rivals have battled to emerge as his chief challenger.
Gingrich, at his first campaign stop today in Des Moines, reiterated his pledge to remain positive while taking a swipe at his competitors.
“If somebody has to try to frighten you to run ads that are false to get to be president, why would you expect them to tell the truth when they are president?” Gingrich said at a Rotary Club breakfast.
About 10 times more anti-Gingrich ads have aired in Iowa than ads that support him. More than $2.5 million has been spent attacking Gingrich, compared to just over $250,000 spent in his favor, according to data compiled by CMAG/Kantar Media, a New York-based company that tracks political spending.
Bachmann has struggled to convince voters that her campaign remains viable following the Dec. 28 departure of a top supporter to Paul’s campaign.
She’s accused Paul of bribing Kent Sorenson, an state senator who was Bachmann’s Iowa campaign chairman, to abandon her effort in favor of Paul.
“He told me that he was offered money, he was offered a lot of money by the Ron Paul campaign,” Bachmann said of Sorenson in comments yesterday in Des Moines. “No one else knows about that conversation other than Kent Sorenson and myself.”
Paul’s campaign and Sorenson have denied the charge.
Santorum, mostly ignored by rivals throughout the campaign, is attracting criticism now that he has risen in the polls and has the potential to unite the votes of social conservatives who are a prominent bloc in the state’s Republican Party.
Perry, at an Iowa event yesterday, sought to link Santorum to federal spending for local projects, saying he had a taste for “Pennsylvania pork” while in the Senate.
‘Earmarks and Pork’
“Senator Santorum, Congressmen Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann have long backed congressional earmarks and pork,” Ray Sullivan, a spokesman for Perry, said in a statement yesterday. “Expecting them to overhaul Washington is asking a fox to guard the henhouse.”
In a Fox News interview, Santorum defended his use of earmarks while in Congress.
“I’m proud of the money that I did set aside for things that were priorities in my state,” he said.
Santorum, 53, also stood by a comment he made about Paul’s age at an earlier event, saying he did it in a “joking way” as he suggested the congressman wouldn’t change his foreign policy views if he made it to the White House.
“My comment was, you know, how many 78-year-old men do you know who change their opinions?” he said of Paul, who is 76. “People are pretty set in their ways.”
--With assistance from Tim Higgins in Storm Lake, Iowa. Editors: Robin Meszoly, Don Frederick
To contact the reporters on this story: Lisa Lerer in Des Moines, Iowa, at firstname.lastname@example.org John McCormick in Des Moines, Iowa, at email@example.com;
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org