Romney, Santorum gain momentum down stretch in Iowa

Gingrich asks voters to punish attacks by rivals

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In campaigning Sunday, Mr. Romney turned down a chance to attack Mr. Santorum but did point out that the senator backed Mr. Romney for the GOP’s 2008 nomination.

He also seemed to leave open the possibility that Mr. Santorum or another candidate would still win Iowa. Mr. Romney said he is prepared to run in contests across the country.

“I can’t tell you who’s going to win this thing, but I do believe I’m going to have a great deal of support and that will give me the kind of boost I need as I go into a season of other states,” he said.

Later in the day, in Council Bluffs, Mr. Romney packed an audience into an auditorium with a line snaking down the stairs, around a large reception room and out into the street an hour before the candidate was slated to speak.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has been packing in the crowds, even better than the surging Mr. Santorum. On Thursday, Mr. Santorum drew a strong crowd to the Button Factory Restaurant in Muscatine, but an attendee who had been there for a Perry event earlier in December said the Texan’s audience was bigger.

Still to be seen, though, is whether Mr. Perry can translate those crowds into votes.

Walking out of a Santorum event in Marshalltown on Friday night, one woman was so wowed by the former senator that she confided to reporters she had a Perry sign in her yard but was going home to take it down and replace it with a Santorum sign.

Mr. Perry didn’t have any public events announced for Sunday, but on Saturday he continued to shift his focus from job-creating governor to outsider and dedicated Christian who would shake up the Beltway culture.

“I ask you to join me in echoing the words of the Prophet Isaiah: ‘Here I am, send me,’ ” he told voters in central Iowa.

Things had seemed much brighter for Mr. Perry when he entered the race in August and within a month jumped into a lead in the polls here, ending Rep. Michele Bachmann’s two-month reign. He even posted strong fundraising numbers through the end of September.

But catastrophic debate performances and controversial stances on illegal immigrants in Texas knocked him off his perch.

Still, Mr. Perry is rallying now.

The same cannot be said of Mrs. Bachmann, whose collapse has been the most spectacular because of the depths she has reached. Her Iowa campaign chairman renounced his support last week and backed Mr. Paul instead, and her events are drawing sparse crowds.

She finished what she called her 99-county tour and took the weekend off from stumping, according to the Register’s candidate tracker. She made just one stop to visit with volunteers at her campaign headquarters in Urbandale on Saturday and then attended services at Jubilee Family Church in Oskaloosa on Sunday.

She talked about the moment Oct. 31, 1972, when she was 16 and went to church at night. She said the Holy Spirit took a hold of her and she started pouring out her sins.

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