- The Washington Times - Monday, January 2, 2012

DES MOINES, Iowa — Four years after a second-place finish in Iowa’s caucuses mortally wounded his campaign, Mitt Romney is counting on the state to write a different story on Tuesday — a win here could go a long way toward sewing up the 2012 GOP presidential nomination.

But Mr. Romney, who made his first campaign trip to Iowa more than six years ago, still has not sealed matters with voters here, and their search for an anyone-but-Romney candidate has defined the 2012 campaign.

“We’re going to win this thing with all of our passion and strength,” Mr. Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, said Monday night, setting a high bar for himself.

Five opponents are competing in Iowa to beat him, and for much of the year, they have jockeyed for the mantle of the non-Romney candidate, trading the lead in the polls in what may well be the most volatile campaign in Iowa history.

Now, in a final twist, the one person who has never held a lead, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, may have the best shot at topping Mr. Romney and becoming the candidate who unites conservatives.

Also threatening Mr. Romney’s storybook ending here is Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who, like Mr. Romney, competed here in 2008 and says the intervening four years have pushed the country in his direction.

Supporters chanted Mr. Paul’s name as he took the stage Monday at a hotel in the state’s capital, Des Moines, to rally supporters.

“The excitement has built steadily, and the campaign has been remarkable in the organization. The funds have come in,” Mr. Paul told them. His son, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, predicted a “win in Iowa.”

The elder Mr. Paul had taken the weekend off from campaigning, but he and the others spread out across the state Monday, wrangling for every last voter. In caucuses, that matters.

In 2008, the winner, Mike Huckabee, won with fewer than 41,000 votes, out of a total of fewer than 120,000 cast. That low ceiling means winning voters one by one.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry campaigned in the state’s northwest, while Rep. Michele Bachmann stayed close to Des Moines.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whose campaign has slid in the polls, conceded he would not win here and blamed a barrage of attack ads aimed at him.

Voters said the ads were overwhelming, and many said they just tuned them out — but analysts said they had the desired effect of harming Mr. Gingrich’s standing.

Throughout it all, voters have faced one major question: Do they back Mr. Romney, or do they look for another champion?

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