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Mitt Romney continues final push in Iowa

By Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times –

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — Reflecting a growing confidence in scoring a top spot in the Iowa caucuses, Mitt Romney on Thursday scanned a diner packed with his supporters here and told them how much he appreciated Iowa’s role as the first vetter of presidential candidates.

“You know what’s going on in the political process, you get a chance to see the different candidates, take the measure of a person and decide not just who has the best ideas but also who has the quality of leadership that this country needs,” he said, as voters sipped coffee and nibbled on massive cinnamon rolls. “I get the impression that you’ve by and large decided I’m a pretty good one as a result of that enthusiastic welcome.”

Romney, who ignored Iowa for much of the year, was on the third-day of a four-day sprint through the state, where he has been met with enthusiastic and overflowing crowds and poll numbers that show he has a good shot at winning when Iowa holds the first presidential voting contest in the nation on Tuesday. Reflecting their optimism, Romney’s campaign said he will remain in Iowa the night after the caucuses and do a round of media interviews from the state the next day.

It’s a different tack from his unsuccessful bid four years ago, when Romney invested so heavily in the state that his second-place finish was an embarrassing blow, and quickly jetted to New Hampshire shortly after the caucuses ended.

This time, Romney has spent a fraction of the effort here, but a conflagration of circumstances make a first- or second-place finish increasingly likely. And if it were a second-place finish to Ron Paul, most believe that is essentially a Romney victory since the Texas congressman’s prospects beyond Iowa are dim.

Romney has seen a series of potential challengers peak and fade, the latest being Newt Gingrich. The candidate made no mention of the former House speaker, but when Romney’s wife, Ann, introduced him, she seemed to draw an implicit comparison between her husband of 42 years and the thrice-married Gingrich, who has a history of infidelity.

“I’ve seen Mitt in all situations. I’ve seen him as a husband and as a father and those are the ones that obviously I care about the most,” she said. “It’s been wonderful to know he’s the kind of guy to always put family first.”

She said when their five children were young, when Romney traveled frequently for business to New York or Chicago, he would frequently fly home at night and return the next morning so he could spend time with the family.

“You know he’s been a successful businessman, he’s been a governor and … he was able to turn around those Olympics,” Ann Romney said. “But the side I care about is how he’s been there and knows and keeps his priorities straight.”

The couple was traveling Thursday with former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, who tapped Romney to turnaround the debt- and scandal-plagued 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.

Leavitt said Romney turned a $400 million deficit into a $100 million surplus, and that he could do the same for the nation.

“At a time when the country is a bit demoralized, at a time when the country has $1.5 trillion deficit, what we need is a turnaround, what we need is lower spending, less debt and less federal government,” he said. “And (the) guy who will give it to us is … Mitt Romney.”

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