DES MOINES, Iowa — The two leading Republican presidential candidates in Iowa left the stage to their rivals to make their final pitches to voters just three days before the state's Republican caucus.
Mitt Romney was to campaign in New Hampshire on Saturday while Ron Paul was taking time off in his home state of Texas. Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and Rick Perry all remained in Iowa, touring the state as they worked to win over the many still-undecided conservative voters.
Romney and Paul are absent, but they're poised to do well here. Both are leading in polls and have the money and organization to turn supporters out to caucus Tuesday night.
But with just days until voters begin to select the GOP nominee, the other candidates are still fighting in a volatile race that's seen candidate after candidate rise only to quickly fall. The same polls suggest large numbers of Iowa Republicans could change their minds before the first test of the 2012 campaign.
Santorum is the latest to draw intense interest. He has been rising in polls and drawing larger and larger crowds in recent days. The once resurgent Gingrich has fallen behind as negative ads have battered him on the airwaves and in mailboxes.
Bachmann's campaign has struggled. She's lost key staffers and some activists have urged her to drop out of the race. Perry, meanwhile, has spent millions on TV ads and is continuing a bus tour that consumed much of December.
Romney will return to Iowa later Saturday and will hold events in the western part of the state in areas he won when he first ran for president four years ago.
On Friday, he focused on Paul — his closest rival in recent polling — calling the Texas congressman out of step with most Republicans.
"I don't think Ron Paul represents the mainstream of Republican thought with regards to issues, particularly in foreign policy," Romney told Fox News.
Paul planned to spend the weekend out of Iowa. Campaigning Friday, he said he would have trouble voting for any of his Republican rivals if they won the nomination.
"They all are part of the status quo," he said.
Gingrich, now struggling, has said he wouldn't vote for Paul.
The usually combative former House speaker made headlines Friday when he broke down and wept as he talked about his mother's end-of-life illnesses.
"I do policy much easier than I do personal," Gingrich told an audience of women as he tried to regain his composure. The tears flowed as he responded to questions about his mother from a pollster and longtime political ally.
"My whole emphasis on brain science comes in directly from dealing with the real problems of real people," he said, his face distorting as he began to cry. "And so it's not a theory. It's, in fact, my mother."
Kathleen "Kit" Gingrich died in 2003. She was 77.
Whatever the impact of Gingrich's tears on the race for the White House, the video clip seemed destined to be played repeatedly on television and the Internet.
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