Republicans make final effort day before Iowa vote

Republicans make final effort day before Iowa vote 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 them.

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 election.

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 Hampshire.