In Iowa, Candidates Make Closing Arguments

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney looks like he's on top as the last weekend of the pre-campaign year finds Rep. Ron Paul and his troops having a day in the sun — and the rest of the GOP field in disarray.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel. And we begin this hour in Iowa. The caucuses there are less than a week away, Tuesday night, and the Republican presidential candidates spent the day making closing arguments. Rick Santorum appears to be gaining momentum in the state, thanks largely to Christian conservatives, and Newt Gingrich provided a rare unscripted moment when he choked up talking about his late mother.

Meanwhile, front runner Mitt Romney attacked his main rival in Iowa, Texas Congressman Ron Paul, as a fringe candidate. NPR's David Schaper reports from Des Moines that Romney is trying to lock down his lead in the race.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: It's been balmy this week by Iowa wintertime standards, but a damp chill challenged the crowd at an outdoor rally for Mitt Romney this morning in a West Des Moines supermarket parking lot. Romney saluted them.

MITT ROMNEY: You guys - no one does it better than Iowa. Look at you out here today with this rain, with the cold, with the wind...

SCHAPER: But Romney had just the crowd pleaser to warm things up, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE: Well, let's be real clear. Let's be real clear. President Barack Obama came out to Iowa three years ago and he talked to you about hope and change. Well, let me tell you, after three years of Obama, we are hopeless and changeless and we need Mitt Romney to bring us back, to bring America back.

SCHAPER: This week, Romney has moved from low expectations in this state, where he came in second four years ago, to front-runner status. But with Ron Paul right behind in the polls, that may not fully measure his support, Romney went after the Texas congressman in local television interviews, calling Paul outside the mainstream. On stage in that West Des Moines parking lot, though, Romney set his sights on the November target.

ROMNEY: Do you want more of Barack Obama?

CROWD: No.

ROMNEY: Do you want more of Obama-care?

CROWD: No.

ROMNEY: Do you want promises of higher taxes?

CROWD: No.

ROMNEY: Is it time to have a real change in Washington?

CROWD: Yes.

SCHAPER: An enthusiastic Paul Bissinger(ph) of Clive, Iowa is thrilled to see Romney attacking President Obama.

PAUL BISSINGER: This country is so lucky to have a man of this quality running. And this country is in big bad trouble.

SCHAPER: But Eric Letske(ph) of West Des Moines is a little less sure.

ERIC LETSKE: Well, I'm still making up my mind. I'm kind of leaning more and more towards Romney because he kind of seems like he's the adult in the room, I guess, among the Republicans.

SCHAPER: And Letske says having Christie on Romney's side helps.

LETSKE: I actually hoped that Christie would be the candidate. I'd be 100 percent behind him.

SCHAPER: And that's been a problem for Romney. Many Iowa Republicans seem to be settling for a candidate Letske says would make a, quote, mediocre president, and mostly because he would have the best chance of winning. For those who still want someone else, the last option is increasingly former senator Rick Santorum, especially those in the large Christian conservative wing of the party. If Santorum can continue to pull together that vote, he could join the top finishers on Tuesday night.

David Schaper, NPR News in Des Moines.

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