DES MOINES, Iowa – Republicans in search of their party’s presidential nomination are returning to campaign mode after a brief Christmas respite, with Rick Santorum planning a bird hunting trip with conservatives in Iowa and Mitt Romney phoning supporters.
With just a week until Iowa holds its leadoff caucuses, candidates are stepping up activities in the state ahead of the Jan. 3 contests.
Many voters are undecided. And while former Massachusetts governor Romney appears stronger in Iowa than he had earlier, he’s facing a continuing challenge from Newt Gingrich, a former speaker of the U.S. House.
In Iowa, both Romney and Gingrich must contend with Rep. Ron Paul, the Texas congressman who seems to have the most sophisticated network of volunteers ready to organize ahead of the caucuses. Paul, who is popular with conservatives, was to return to Iowa this week to meet with supporters he has kept in touch with since his unsuccessful run in 2008.
Romney, who kept this state at arm’s length for most of the year, seemed to increase his efforts in Iowa as polls found him in a stronger position.
He planned to talk with supporters in a series of telephone calls in Iowa and New Hampshire on Monday between working on a speech that aides described as his final pitch to Iowans.
Romney planned to deliver that speech Tuesday evening and then set out on a bus tour of Iowa.
He will share the highways with Rep. Michele Bachmann, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Gingrich. All scheduled bus tours to start then, too.
Gingrich, who last week criticized the negative tone of the campaign, was ready to directly challenge Romney on the economy, an issue Romney has made central to his campaign.
Gingrich’s standing in public and private polls has slipped as he faced unrelenting criticism from the candidates and their allies.
Santorum, meanwhile, planned to announce support from another wave of Iowa conservatives. He scheduled a pheasant hunting trip for Monday afternoon.
While he trails in polls and has not spent significant money on ads, Santorum is hoping his nonstop courtship of Iowans yields a late surge.
He visited all 99 of Iowa’s counties during the summer — an accomplishment Bachmann has feverishly tried to replicate.
Meanwhile, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman kept his focus on New Hampshire, which votes for a Republican presidential candidate on Jan. 10. Early in the campaign, he said he would not compete in Iowa and instead would make his start in New Hampshire, which comes second on the nominating calendar.