MARION, Iowa — Mitt Romney is in a virtual tie for first place, according to polls in Iowa, and showing increasing confidence, predicting at one event that he would eventually win the GOP nomination.
“We’re going to win this thing with all our passion and strength and do everything we can to get this campaign on the right track to go across the nation and pick up the states and to get the ballots I need and the votes I need to become our nominee,” said Romney at a campaign event, according to reports.
The ambivalence the Romney campaign once showed toward the early-voting state — fostered by the memory of the former Massachusetts governor's defeat at the hands of Mike Huckabee four years ago, after he sank millions of dollars into the race — is a thing of the past. Romney is going all-out to win the caucuses that will start in less than 24 hours.
But before he moves on to the more friendly territory of the Granite State, he's got to close the deal in Iowa.
This time around he faces a surging Rick Santorum, who is sparking comparisons to Huckabee, Romney's 2008 foe. And Ron Paul has a strong, loyal base in the state, which has the Texas congressman leading the polls with Romney and Santorum.
He spent Monday barnstorming the state and has one more event scheduled for late evening. He'll spend Tuesday around Des Moines.
Romney's event here Monday in Marion underlined both the professionalism of his campaign and its fundraising superiority to those of his rivals.
All the accoutrements of a full-blown White House bid, from a busload of traveling press accompanying the candidate to a suitably patriotic campaign song (Kid Rock's "Born Free") to professional lighting and staging were in evidence. Rivals like Paul and Santorum run much more low-key operations, in comparison.
The case for Romney was built around the twin themes of competence and electability.
He was introduced by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who said that the choice Iowa Republicans faced Tuesday should come down to two things: who is the "most skilled" candidate and "who is best positioned to make sure we defeat Barack Obama in November."
Romney's wife, Ann, echoed the theme, telling the audience of around 250 that it was important to "coalesce around one candidate who can actually defeat Barack Obama."
In his remarks, Romney mentioned none of his Republican rivals, instead focusing on Obama. He promised, to cheers, to repeal "ObamaCare" and, in what is becoming a signature line of his stump speech, recounted an interview Obama gave shortly after being inaugurated. The new president, Romney recalled, said that if he failed to help the economy recover in three years, he would be "looking at a one-term proposition."
"I'm here to collect," Romney said, to more cheers.
Romney conducted no question-and-answer session with the audience, instead closing his remarks with a plea of sorts.
"I need you tomorrow night. I need every single vote in this room," he said.
Ken Cooper, the owner of a local signage business, had a Romney sticker affixed to his jacket, but told The Hill that he was still not convinced he would vote for him.
"He came across real good. If he was the nominee, he could handle the campaign," Cooper said. But the 66-year-old Cooper expressed doubts, the most pronounced of which concerned Romney's backing of healthcare reform while governor of Massachusetts. This, Cooper said, was too close to "ObamaCare" for his liking.
Cooper added that he would definitely attend the caucuses.
"If you could take a part of each of them, you would have the perfect candidate," he said. "But no single one of them is the perfect candidate."
—This story was updated at 8:17 p.m.