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Romney opens final push for Iowa by targeting Obama

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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney greets supporters and signs autographs Tuesday during a rally at the Hotel Blackhawk in Davenport, Iowa.

DAVENPORT, IA -- Opening his final push toward next week's Iowa caucus, Mitt Romney on Tuesday night delivered a more polished version of his so-called "closing argument" speech, in which he ignored his GOP rivals for the nomination and focused on drawing stark contrasts with President Barack Obama.

Harkening back to a speech by then-candidate Obama in Davenport in 2007, Romney said the president has failed to deliver on his campaign promises to bring people together and to fix Washington.

"Gone is the 'hope and change' candidate of Davenport. Gone is the candidate who would heal the nation. Instead, the campaigner in chief divides Americans, engages in class warfare and resorts to distortion and demagoguery," Romney said. "Once, Barack Obama appealed to our better angels; today he demonizes fellow Americans."

The former Massachusetts governor begins a three-day bus tour of the Hawkeye state Wednesday, when he will be joined by top surrogates. Recent polls show the on-again-off-again front runner battling for the top spot in the state -- which Romney's campaign has long argued he does not have to win to secure the nomination -- with Texas Rep. Ron Paul, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

In previous visits, Romney has drawn respectful crowds if little enthusiasm. Tuesday night he drew cheers from an overflow crowd, which spilled out of the ballroom and into the adjoining hallway, when he laid out a dramatic vision for the 2012 general election to come.

"This is an election not only to replace a president. It is an election to save the soul of America," Romney said. "It is a choice between two destinies."

Those dueling destinies -- a so-called "opportunity society" versus an "entitlement society" has been a recurring theme of Romney's for weeks on the stump. Tonight he further defined the two possible futures for the United States.

Romney said president Obama's healthcare plan, his National Labor Relations Board appointees battling Boeing, and his administration's support for companies like Solyndra were all examples of an entitlement society's governmental abuses.

"Now we know how an entitlement society works -- those in government control the resources and make the rules.  And while the rest of us stand still, they make sure that their friends get ahead," Romney said.

Democrats were quick to respond.

"Governor Romney didn’t learn the lessons of the economic crisis -- instead, he has proposed a return to the same policies that caused it, letting Wall Street write its own rules again and making middle-class families pay for tax cuts for millionaires, billionaires, and corporations," Ben LaBolt, Obama's campaign spokesman, said in a statement released just as the speech concluded. "While President Obama is fighting for an economy that rewards hard work and responsibility and provides every American with a fair shake, Mitt Romney believes in skewing the playing field toward those at the top while leaving Americans facing a challenge on their own."

Romney -- who spent $10 million in the Hawkeye state four years ago only to be dealt a devastating second-place finish -- localized his speech with a brief nod to the pioneer spirit of Iowans.

"Iowa was built by men and women who pursued their dreams.  Pioneers came here for a better life. They tilled the land and planted crops. They took prairie and turned it into community," Romney said.

Toward the end of the speech, Romney also took a swipe at Joe Biden for an op-ed piece the vice president wrote last week in the Des Moines Register.

"You have to feel sorry for Joe Biden. Four years ago, he warned us about Barack Obama. It turns out he was right," Romney said, with the crowd laughing as soon as he mentioned Biden's name. "Now, every day, he has to keep quiet about that.  And you know how hard that is for Joe.

"So he wrote a column in the Des Moines Register. He says Republicans don't care," Romney continued.  "No, Mr. Biden, we do care that under your policies more Americans have lost their jobs, more Americans are on food stamps, and more Americans have lost their homes. Blaming others is not a plan to get America working. On January 3, Iowa will start our plan to get America working."