Romney confident he'll be in 'top group' in Iowa

January 3, 2012 - 9:37 AM
Romney 2012

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign stop in Clive, Iowa, Monday, Jan. 2, 2012. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Mitt Romney on Tuesday backpedaled a bit from his earlier prediction of a first-place finish in the Iowa caucuses.

"It's hard to predict exactly what's going to happen," Romney said on MSNBC. "I think I'll be among the top group."

Monday night, Romney was more aggressive, telling hundreds of supporters in the Iowa town of Clive that he would win Tuesday's caucuses — and, eventually, the Republican nomination for president.

Still, Romney said Tuesday, the top three finishers "will get a good sendoff into New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida" — the first three primary states.

His chief opponents, polls show, are Texas Rep. Ron Paul and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. But thousands of caucus-goers are still undecided even as voting is set to begin.

The former Massachusetts governor will hold a rally Tuesday in Des Moines ahead of an evening gathering at the Hotel Fort Des Moines to wait for the caucus results.

He faces the same challenge he had in 2008: winning over conservatives skeptical of his moderate record and changes on the social issues important to the state's many evangelical Christian voters.

But he faces diminished threats here from the two candidates his campaign worried most about: Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Instead of focusing on his rivals, Romney has stayed focused on Democratic President Barack Obama.

Perry is skipping next week's primary in New Hampshire to compete instead in the first-in-the-South primary in South Carolina. Gingrich's standing in polls has been badly damaged by a barrage of negative ads from Romney allies.

Romney has been ever more confident as he campaigned across Iowa after the Christmas holiday. He's been clearly buoyed by the large crowds he's drawn and the excitement they've shown. And while advisers acknowledge that an Iowa win is far preferable to a second- or third-place finish, they say they're prepared to compete nationally in a way their rivals aren't.