Republicans make final effort day before Iowa vote

Polls show Mitt Romney locked in a close race with Texas Rep. Ron Paul, with Santorum rising swiftly to challenge them.

Washington: Republican presidential candidates
were making their final pitches on Monday, a day before Iowa
voters gather in caucuses to become the first in the US to
choose a favourite to challenge President Barack Obama in the
November election.

Polls show former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney locked
in a close race with Texas Rep. Ron Paul, with former
Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum rising swiftly to challenge

The Tuesday caucus meetings in Iowa could further define
the seven-candidate field of Republicans seeking the party`s
nomination. They are the first in a grueling series of
state-by-state primary elections and caucuses that stretch to
the end of June.

Only three or four candidates typically make it out of
Iowa with enough momentum and money to continue in the race.

The fight for the nomination has been defined not only by
the issues but also by the candidates` contention that they
are best placed to keep a deeply vulnerable Obama from winning
a second White House term. He is weighed down with a stagnant
US economy that has been slow to recover from the 2007-2009
Great Recession.

With roughly half of Iowa`s likely caucus attendees still
undecided, an unexpected outcome remained a stark possibility
for the party that has so far failed to coalesce around
Romney, the well-financed and patrician easterner who is the
favorite of the Republican establishment.

But with Paul widely seen as a far weaker candidate
nationwide, Romney was showing confidence he would move out of
Iowa with momentum.

He is the favorite in the closely watched New Hampshire
primary election which comes next on Jan. 10.

Even though Romney does not have the support of a
plurality of likely Iowa caucus-goers, he is seen by them as
the Republican most likely to defeat Obama in the general

Paul and Santorum were fighting against the notion in
Republican circles that their bases of support are narrow and
that neither would be able to put together the diverse voting
coalition necessary to beat Obama.

The libertarian-leaning Paul attracts those who like his
message of states` rights and limited central government,
while Santorum -- an anti-abortion crusader - is popular among
Christian conservatives who make up a large segment of the
Republican Party base.

Iowa`s conservatives have yet to coalesce around a single
candidate. The state`s large evangelical bloc is splitting
support among Santorum, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich,
Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann.

The seventh Republican, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, is
not contesting Iowa and has focused almost solely on New