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The Boston Globe

Politics

Caucus Diary

GOP rivals cross Iowa with straight-line messages

DES MOINES — Iowa is bisected by a road network that largely runs north-south and east-west.

The straight lines provide an apt metaphor for the routes the Republican presidential candidates have been traveling in the run-up to tomorrow’s presidential caucuses.

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Mitt Romney is barreling dead ahead at President Obama. Ron Paul is on a separate course and with a different destiny, a libertarian ideal lived within the confines of the Constitution.

Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann have taken great pride in visiting all 99 counties with a remarkably similar message: they are the true economic and social conservatives in the campaign.

Rick Perry has covered less territory, but even as he aims for the White House, he’s trying to convince the country Congress needs to get out of Washington more.

Newt Gingrich, meanwhile, has chosen a loftier route. He has cast himself a shepherd, leading the Republican flock back toward the Promised Land of supply-side economics.

Tomorrow about 100,000 people in Iowa will chart a course themselves, steering the campaign toward a pro-Romney quick finish, as polls suggest is a possibility, or a Paul win that could mix up the nomination battle enough to make it last into February or even March.

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Santorum has enjoyed late momentum in the race, the by-product of hard work, a political philosophy that dovetails with active blocs of caucus-goers, and his rivals’ own inability to withstand their moments in the spotlight.

Last Monday in Adel, Iowa, he went on a pheasant shoot, not only aiming to convince social conservatives of his dedication to their cause, but also hoping to win the endorsement of US Representative Steve King — a western Iowan who has been courted by the entire field.

A day later, Gingrich and Romney made their case in the eastern part of the state.

Gingrich, addressing the Dubuque Rotary Club, argued that the Republican Party can only be saved by returning to the principles of trickle-down economics. Tax cuts and regulatory reform, he argued, will spur job reaction, even as President Obama argues that policy triggered the Great Recession.

Romney, speaking hours later in Davenport, ignored earlier jabs from Gingrich and instead focused all of his attention on Obama. Looking past caucuses and primaries that have yet to even begin, he said the general election would feature a choice between his vision of an “opportunity” society and the Democrat’s vision of an “entitlement” society.

On Wednesday, Paul visited the Iowa Speedway outside Des Moines. In the first of three stops for the day, he repeated the mantra he has outlined in a string of GOP candidate debates: the country needs to drastically cut spending, withdraw its troops from overseas, and return to strict constitutional principles.

A crowd of 700 people turned out for his evening event, underscoring why many analysts say he has a chance to winning tomorrow night.

That same day, Michele Bachmann’s Iowa campaign chairman, state Senator Kent Sorenson, announced he was quitting to join the Paul campaign. It set up an ugly day for Bachmann on Thursday, which included a speech to employees at the Principal Group.

Bachmann, who won the Iowa Straw Poll in August, tried to reclaim her stature with an appeal to Tea Party conservatives.

Nonetheless, the insurance company audience greeted the congresswoman with uncomfortable silence at several points during her appearance.

On Saturday, the candidate who dislodged Bachmann from atop the polls this summer, only to fall himself subsequently, tried to resurrect his own campaign during a visit to central Iowa.

Texas Governor Rick Perry, who would be content to score third place behind Romney and Paul tomorrow, aimed at Santorum during a speech at The Gigglin’ Goat in Boone.

He cast the former Pennsylvania senator as a big spender and earmark supporter.

Perry also stoked anti-Washington sentiment by advocating for a part-time Congress.

The idea sparked applause for the Texan.

Glen Johnson can be reached at johnson@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.

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