On Tuesday night, this state will hold its first-in-the-nation Republican caucuses. On Monday, six presidential candidates — including the three very different men who appear to be front-runners — all began their last dashes under Iowa’s frigid sunshine.
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s agenda included four cities, spread over 269 miles. Former senator Rick Santorum (Pa.) drove a 171-mile circuit around Iowa’s navel. And Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.), the third candidate in the lead pack, began a long trek across northeastern part of the state, making five stops over 391 miles.
Their messages followed a familiar pattern. Romney attacked President Obama.
At a stop in Marion, he accused Obama of turning the United States into “a European-style welfare state,” saying Obama’s policies would “poison the very spirit of America and keep us from being one nation under God.”
“I’ve watched a president just become the great divider, the great explainer, the great excuse giver, the great blamer,” Romney said. “I want to have an America that comes together. I’m an optimist. I believe in the future of America. I’m not a pessimist. I believe that this country can be as it’s always been, the shining city on a hill — but not by turning into Europe or anything like Europe, but by being quintessentially American.”
And the other two candidates attacked Romney. At a rally in Des Moines, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Ron Paul’s son, criticized Romney as flip-flopping on major policy issues.
“There is only one candidate who has never been accused of flip-flopping . . . my father, Ron Paul,” the younger Paul said to a crowd that chanted his father’s name.
And here in Polk City, Santorum disputed the notion that Romney’s experience as a corporate leader had prepared him to run the country.
An executive “assigns people who work for them. I can tell you, as a senator, I didn’t work for the president. Congress doesn’t work for the president,” Santorum said. “The American people don’t work for the president. It’s the other way around.”
Further back in Iowa’s pack, former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) seemed to be trying to soften his impending defeat. He appeared in Independence, Iowa, with Big Bud, the world’s largest tractor.
“I don’t think I’m going to win,” Gingrich said, blaming a barrage of negative ads from advocacy groups supporting Romney. “If you look at the numbers, that volume of negativity has done enough damage.”
But, he added: “Whatever I do tomorrow night will be a victory, because I’m still standing.”
One positive sign for Gingrich: He appeared to be recovering from a flu that had left him watery-eyed and lethargic over the past few days. At its worst, aides said, the candidate had to be kept quarantined on his own campaign bus. Gingrich’s wife, Callista, and aides kept their distance and used hand sanitizer.