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Romney threads expectations needle for Iowa

LONDONDERRY, N.H. -- Mitt Romney sought to thread the expectations needle about how he must perform in Iowa's caucuses during his return to the campaign trail Tuesday morning.

The former Massachusetts governor downplayed expectations for his campaign's performance in the Jan. 3 caucuses, saying it wasn't a "must-win" contest, all while hinting that he'll be setting up shop in Iowa over the next week.

"You always want to do well in every state. I don't think there's any must win state for anybody," a relaxed Romney said at a cafe in southern N.H. "But for me, I want to do well in all the states and get a good start but I really can't set expectations. A couple of weeks ago I was a distant third in Iowa and you just don't know what's going to happen in this process."

Romney's sought to tamp down expectations about his viability in Iowa throughout the primary cycle. He skipped the Ames straw poll and several other key candidate gatherings in the state. But, with caucus-goers seemingly unable to rally behind a single conservative candidate, Romney's campaign has made a late push in the state, spending more time on the ground, and going on the air with television advertising.

But the Romney campaign has also been careful to hedge its bets in Iowa, mindful of the way Romney's candidacy was burned in 2008 by a poor showing in the caucuses after having invested a great deal of time and resources there. But a win or strong finish there, paired with a victory in New Hampshire, where Romney's campaign has been more intently focused and he leads in the polls, could come close to clinching the nomination early for Romney.

"Of course you want to do well in every state, you'd like to win in every state but that's not gonna happen. I hope to do well enough to 1,150 delegates. So I'm looking at a good start and an even better finish," Romney said of the overall race.

But in perhaps a sly hint of where he'll be spending the next week, he told Granite Staters as he left this morning's event: "See you January 4!"