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Last Round of Iowa Ads Maintains Positive Tone

Candidates' Messages Virtually Inescapable

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By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 2, 2008

DES MOINES, Jan. 1 -- On a New Year's Day that began windy and bitterly cold, presidential candidates offered nothing but sunshine and warmth on television as they aired their final advertising pitches to Iowa voters -- over and over again.

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Even Republican Mitt Romney, who has hammered rival Mike Huckabee for weeks, was smiling.

"The future begins now," Romney declared in his 30-second spot. "I not only approve this message, I'm asking for your vote."

With 48 hours to go before the Iowa caucuses, it was impossible for even the most focused football fans to forget they were in the cross hairs of a horde of politicians. Wedged between bowl games and New Year's parades, spliced into gaps in the evening news and breaks from "Oprah," the ads had but one purpose: to drive Iowans to Thursday's caucuses.

Anyone who had not been paying attention for the last six months of the most expensive Iowa campaign in history would have seen television spots neatly tailored to the Republican and Democratic candidates' tightly crafted closing messages in races that remain too close to call on both sides.

Anyone who had been listening for months, well, they heard it all again:

Huckabee: "Family, life, freedom."

Hillary Rodham Clinton: "Readiness to lead."

John Edwards: "We're going to say America rose up."

Barack Obama: "Unite a divided nation."

What Iowa voters did not see as they absorbed a full menu of bowl games was an attack ad from Huckabee, who produced, revealed and then pulled without airing a biting spot aimed at Romney, his chief rival in the state.

The last-minute decision not to broadcast the ad beyond a well-attended news conference seemed to reflect a belief about Iowa voters that dominates the presidential calculus here: Candidates who turn harsh, especially late in the campaign, risk a backlash.

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