By: THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
DES MOINES, Iowa- In the kickoff contest of the 2012 presidential race, Republican candidates argued up to Tuesday's finish line in Iowa over which candidate the voters can trust and who they can count on to defeat President Barack Obama.
With large numbers of likely caucus goers still undecided or willing to change their minds as the Iowa race wound down, a confident-but-cautious frontrunner, Mitt Romney, said in an interview broadcast Tuesday on NBC that he's poised to claim "the kind of send-off we need for a pretty long campaign season." Backing off earlier declarations he'd win outright, he told MSNBC he expected to be "among the top group."
In a fluid race that has elevated and then discarded a dizzying assortment of front-runners, many of Iowa's GOP voters still hadn't settled on a favorite candidate just hours before they cast the first ballots of the 2012 presidential contest.
"It might come down to the speeches at the caucuses," Phil Ubben of Sioux City said. "I want to support someone who can go all the way and defeat the Democrats in November."
The candidates pinned their final hopes on such voters.
"I think anybody can come in first," Gingrich said on CBS' "The Early Show." That was most likely wishful thinking for the former House speaker, who has lost momentum after surging to the front of the GOP pack late in 2011.
Training their sights on the pack leader, Gingrich and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum questioned Romney's conservative credentials and predicted Obama would, to use Gingrich's words, "tear him apart."
The two who appeared most likely to challenge Romney for victory in Iowa were Santorum and libertarian Rep. Ron Paul of Texas - neither of whom is likely to present as serious a challenge to Romney over the long haul as would Gingrich or Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who also has fallen back.
Santorum, appearing on ABC's "Good Morning America," said Iowans are "looking for the candidate they can trust, and that's why we're moving up in the polls."
This segment aired on January 3, 2012. The audio for this segment is not available.