GOP candidates traverse Iowa in pursuit of supporters

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- With two days left before the Iowa Caucuses, the Republican candidates for President are campaigning in a fever pitch.

Mitt Romney is hoping to be the first Republican candidate to win both Iowa and New Hampshire since Gerald Ford's win in 1976 to do so. He is strong in both states with the rest of the candidates close on his heels. Romney is neck-and-neck with Ron Paul in Iowa, according to the latest NBC News-Marist poll.

The poll also shows favor toward Rick Santorum continuing to rise, and while Rick Perry following suit, support for Newt Gingrich is dropping fast. Romney has been covering Iowa ground, hoping to keep loyalty throughout the state. In the western Iowa town of Council Bluffs, Romney refocused from his caucus opponents to take aim at the president.

"We have to have someone in Washington who's a leader," he said. "Not someone who can just attack and attack and attack the opposing party."

In the meantime, Paul left Iowa for the New Year's holiday. In his absence, his organization works hard to in an effort that could pay off if poor weather in Iowa discourages semi-dedicated caucus attendees.

Working to Santorum's benefit is an onslaught of ads attacking Gingrich which seem to be affecting his current standing. Santorum's appeal to the far right seems to be gaining ground, although he seems to know how fickle Iowa voters are. Santorum has had supporters express that they relate to him more than Romney, and at a Sioux City coffee shop they prayed together and Santorum thanked them for their support.

"This isn't my first time at the rodeo. I've been in tough races," Santorum said. "I've had the national media crawling up anywhere they can crawl. And so I know. I know what it's like."

A win in Iowa would be a step toward the lead for Romney's campaign. He is already in good shape in New Hampshire, the state Jon Huntsman is banking on. Huntsman's campaign has been putting the pressure on voters over New Year's weekend, running an ad that calls Romney a 'flip flopper.' But NBC's Chris Matthews thinks Romney still seems to be the candidate to beat in the long run.

"I see a route for Mitt Romney to win in January and at the end of the month, come out in the lead," Matthews said.

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Richard Piatt


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