DUBUQUE, Iowa — The Republican presidential candidates opened an intensive week of campaigning in wide-open Iowa on Tuesday with the embattled Newt Gingrich casting rival Mitt Romney as an establishment defender of big government and accusing Romney’s supporters of lying about his record.
Gingrich, who has fallen after holding the lead a month ago, went to work trying to limit the damage done by the millions of dollars’ worth of negative ads aimed at him in recent weeks and counter the growing impression that Romney is suddenly well positioned to win in Iowa and consolidate a grip on the nomination.
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With the lead off Iowa caucuses just one week away, Republican presidential hopefuls are ready to rumble through the state's small towns aboard their campaign buses. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich planned for three stops in Dubuque on Tuesday. (Dec. 27)
The prospect of a Romney victory in Iowa has alarmed virtually everyone else in the Republican field. Iowa has long been seen as a difficult state for the former Massachusetts governor because of the heavily conservative leanings of many activists here. Were he to win next week and couple that with an expected victory in New Hampshire, Romney would put himself in a commanding position to win the nomination.
Romney, who began his day in New Hampshire, offered no predictions about Iowa but sounded a confident note about his overall prospects. “I think I’m going to get the nomination if we do our job right,” he said before flying to Iowa.
Romney arrived in Davenport later in the day and was met by an overflow crowd as he began a three-day bus tour of Iowa with an opportunity to win the caucuses, despite a far more limited effort than he put forth before losing four years ago. He focused his rhetoric on President Obama, saying he had promised but failed to put Americans back to work. “Mr. President, you have now had your moment,” he said. “We have seen the results. And now, Mr. President, this is our time.”
The campaign sprang to life Tuesday after a Christmas-weekend hiatus and suddenly featured all the traditional elements of past battles here — television commercials clogging local newscasts, candidates’ buses crisscrossing the state and volunteers engaged in a last dash to nail down support ahead of next week’s first-in-the-nation caucuses.
Both Romney and Gingrich were keeping an eye on Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.), the libertarian conservative whose organizational prowess has put him in the thick of the battle. Paul was due to resume his campaigning on Wednesday.
On the western side of the state, three of the most conservative candidates — former senator Rick Santorum (Pa.), Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry — battled to coalesce the religious and social conservatives who have played a significant role in some previous campaigns but who have been fragmented in this year’s race. All three believe that, with a strong enough showing, they can survive the caucuses and keep their candidacies alive for later contests.
This year’s campaign is unusual because the scrambled race here has given all the candidates at least some reason to hope they will be able to keep going beyond Iowa. But the real focus over the next week will be on Romney, Gingrich and Paul.