Blustery winds and freezing cold temperatures today didn’t slow down the Republican presidential candidates’ campaigning on the eve of the Iowa caucuses.
Six GOP candidates — most with family members in tow — shook voters’ hands and made their final arguments.
Here’s a look at what our reporters are finding on the campaign trail:
— Mitt Romney, who has edged into the lead in recent polls, is looking to deepen — not broaden — his statewide map in the final stretch, campaign adviser Eric Fehrnstrom tells NPR’s Ari Shapiro.
As Ari reported earlier, Romney plans to visit areas of eastern Iowa where he did well in 2008.
So the former Massachusetts governor kicked off his last full day of Iowa campaigning at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds in Davenport.
“This county did good things for me last time around,” Romney told those assembled. “I need you to get out and do that again.”
Last time, the support in these counties was not quite enough: Iowa was the beginning of the end for Romney in 2008. This year, polls suggest he could win. But this morning’s event was only about half full, Ari reports. Most of the voters Ari spoke with expressed more pragmatism than enthusiasm for Romney. They believe he’s best positioned to unseat the president.
Romney said that ability to take on President Obama is why Iowans should choose him — and he didn’t once mention his rivals.
— Rick Santorum began his day of campaigning at the Rising Sun Café in Polk City, where the number of supporters was rivaled by the number of national and international journalists, reports Sonari Glinton.
The former Pennsylvania senator warned voters: “Do not defer your judgment to the pundits and to the polls.”
Santorum said he’s going to spend the remaining time before the caucuses explaining that he’s the true electable conservative in the race.
When speaking to reporters, Santorum acknowledged his surge in the polls but tried to tamp down expectations. “I’m hopeful that what we’re seeing here is a lot of momentum and intensity,” he said. “And if we can finish in the top three, that’s a good finish for us.”
One sign of his momentum? For most of his time in Iowa, Santorum has been traveling by pickup truck. He’s still in the truck, Sonari reports, but now it’s followed by a bus.
— Ron Paul was on what his campaign calls a daylong whistle-stop tour across Iowa today.
As Don Gonyea reports, there were no trains involved, but the imagery works for a candidate who has kept chugging along, repeating his libertarian message.
“This is what the vote is about tomorrow: Are we sick and tired of the expansion of government, the endless spending and deficit, doing the things they weren’t supposed to do and forgetting about doing the things they should be doing?” Paul said.
For the Texas congressman, it’s a simple choice for Iowans looking to challenge the status quo. “There’s one issue that has made America great, and the issue that you can answer all your questions on is individual liberty,” he said.
Paul supporters are intensely loyal — like Mandy Devries, a mother of five from Ankeny, Iowa. She told Don: “I stand behind him, but I stand behind his ideas. And even when Ron Paul is no longer on the scene, I know that his ideas are going to stick around.”
— Newt Gingrich stood flanked by a dump truck and backhoe today at an excavating company in Walford, just outside Cedar Rapids, to underscore his plan to turn around the economy.
But the former House speaker first attacked President Obama for saying that he will push his agenda with or without Congress, reports David Schaper.
“Now, I don’t know what country he thinks he’s in, but it’s constitutionally impossible to govern without Congress,” Gingrich said. He accused Obama of and Congress of being childish.
Gingrich talked up his own experience in crafting bipartisan solutions — and it impressed Rosie Moser of Oelwein.
“I am not a supporter and I am now,” she said. “He totally turned my thinking around.”
Moser told David she especially likes Gingrich’s promise to put American interests first, not partisan ones.
Gingrich remains upbeat that other Iowa Republicans will reject the barrage of negative ads against him, David reports. But Gingrich also says Iowa is like the first three minutes of the Super Bowl — and there’s much more of the game to play.
— Rick Perry spoke to Iowans today at a hotel and conference center on the western border of the state. The Texas governor said that the country is at a precipice, and he presented voters with this question:
“Why would you settle for anything other than an authentic conservative that reflects your values?”
— Michele Bachmann also fought for the conservative mantle, reminding voters that she won the Iowa straw poll this summer. “I believe without a shadow of a doubt Iowans want to get behind a candidate who will represent their values,” she said, “and I believe that I best represent their values.”
As Mark Memmott noted earlier today, Bachmann has also launched an ad in which she makes the case that she’s an American “Iron Lady,” like former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.