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Romney seems optimistic in face of Santorum surge

The former Massachusetts governor focuses his criticism on President Obama and projects a calm confidence despite his 2008 history in Iowa.

January 01, 2012|By Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times
  • Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney chats with Iowa voters and members of the media at the Family Table restaurant in Atlantic, Iowa.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney chats with Iowa voters… (Jim Lo Scalzo, European…)

Reporting from Atlantic, Iowa — For Mitt Romney, it's deja vu all over again.

The former Massachusetts governor has spent much of the year as the front-runner to win the Iowa caucuses, watching other candidates ebb and flow in the polls, serenely floating above it all as his rivals savaged one another. And then, just days before the Iowa caucuses, a dark horse candidate popular with the socially conservative voters has caught fire.

The 2012 presidential contest is clearly different from the one four years ago, in which Romney spent an inordinate amount of time and money in Iowa only to be humiliated by a second-place finish to the late-surging Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor.

The question for Romney is whether history will repeat itself: whether on Tuesday, Rick Santorum and his ragtag band of supporters and meager war chest will come from behind to embarrass Romney and his well-oiled, well-funded machine by eclipsing him in the first voting contest in the nation. Romney on Sunday wasn't ruling out anything, but was forwarding a calm confidence that he will prevail eventually.

"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" going forward, Romney told reporters after speaking at a diner here. "Sen. Santorum is a good guy; he's worked hard. I wouldn't be surprised if we saw him do well Tuesday night."

Romney has spent far less time and money in Iowa this year and had kept public expectations fairly low until recently. But as other candidates have fallen by the wayside, Romney has accelerated his campaign here, pounding the pavement across Iowa, greeting voters in greasy spoons, grocery stories and manufacturing plants.

On Sunday, Romney met with voters at the Family Table restaurant in Atlantic and held a rally at a restored Victorian mansion in Council Bluffs. He stuck with his presumptive-nominee script, focusing his criticism on President Obama, and not mentioning his GOP rivals except when asked by reporters.

Romney argued that Obama has been an abject failure in dealing with domestic and foreign threats.

"You know, I've been looking at some video clips on YouTube, of President Obama, then candidate Obama, going through Iowa making promises," Romney told an overflow crowd at the Bayliss Park Hall in Council Bluffs. "The gap between his promises and his performance is the largest I've seen since, well, the Kardashian wedding and the promise of ''Til death do us part.'"

His closing argument to voters here previewed what is expected to be his theme in the general election if he wins the nomination: an overt appeal to middle-class Americans reeling from the nation's economic collapse.

"It's been a tough three years. It's been a detour; it's not our destiny," Romney said. "You can remember well when every week you thought about what movie you might want to take the kids to at the end of the week, instead of thinking about did you get enough meals to go on the table till the end of the week, till the next paycheck came.

"You can remember a time when it was OK to look at headlines, when you weren't scared to look at your retirement account, when, let's see, when you weren't afraid to look at the price at the pump. You can remember when you were thinking about retirement, where you might retire. Now, you're thinking how many jobs will you have to have, will you ever get a chance to retire. Look, that America you remember is still out there and we want to reclaim that America."

Romney, accompanied by his wife, Ann, and son Craig, kept an optimistic face throughout the day, despite the fact that his prospects were not quite as clear as they were a few weeks ago.

"I'm pretty confident we'll have a good night," Romney said. "I don't know who's going to win but I think we'll have good support."

seema.mehta@latimes.com

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