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Romney shows new strength in Iowa



CLINTON, Iowa -- Mitt Romney didn't need a new poll today to demonstrate that his prospects were looking up in Iowa -- though he got one anyway.

Instead, all he needed to do was take a look at the crowds overflowing out the doors of his events in Eastern Iowa.

"The response I'm getting is really quite heartening, and I can't tell you what's going to happen," Romney told reporters this afternoon. "I can't join the expectations game, but I can tell you that I feel pretty good about the support I'm getting here in Iowa and new Hampshire for that matter. And it looks like we're going to be off to a good start."

Moments after Romney spoke, the political world got confirmation of his good feeling, when CNN/Time released new poll results of likely Iowa caucus-goers, showing Romney in first place at 25% and Ron Paul next at 22%.

While that difference remains within the poll's margin of error, and the count includes only registered Republicans -- a fact which may leave out many Paul supporters -- it is likely still a welcome development for the Romney campaign, as it looks to lock down support in early primary states and avoid a lengthy and potentially damaging nomination fight.

Romney, who has spent just 11 days campaigning in Iowa this election cycle, brought an armada of supporters with him to the Hawkeye state this week. As the candidate and his wife travel the eastern part of the state, top Romney surrogates from neighboring states are also campaigning on his behalf here -- with former Sens. Jim Talent (R-MO) and Norm Coleman (R-MN) and current Sen. John Thune (R-SD) making joint stops today. On Friday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will also stump for Romney.

Illinois Congressman Aaron Schock, whose district borders Iowa, also campaigned for Romney today, introducing him at his first two campaign stops.

"You know what it means to be a Chicago politician," Schock said ominously to the crowd at Romney's first event, just across the Mississippi river from Illinois, before extolling them to caucus for Romney, whom he said the White House most feared.

While Romney-supporting Super PAC Restore Our Future has been spending millions in negative ads attacking his GOP opponents, most notably Newt Gingrich, Romney himself has largely tried to avoid referencing his rivals by name on the stump. He told reporters today he intended to keep the focus on President Obama going forward.

"I think people want a nominee who can beat Barack Obama. So they are focused on the message and the passion and the organization and the energy to beat Barack Obama," Romney said. "Let's focus on the person who really is the target of our effort, and that’s what I'm doing."

But Romney did make a backhanded reference to Paul this morning, telling a breakfast crowd this morning that his closest competitor in Iowa thought it was "okay" for Iran to get a nuclear bomb.

"One of the people running for president thinks it’s OK for Iran to have a nuclear weapon. I don’t," Romney said in response to a question about keeping Israel secure. "I don’t trust Ayatollahs I don't trust Ahmadinejad. I don't trust those who back Hamas and Hezbollah."

But later in the day, Romney told NBC reporter Joe St. George he would "absolutely" vote for Paul if he were to become the Republican nominee. When asked the same question at his media avail this afternoon, Romney said he had a number of different positions from Paul, but that "relative to Obama," he would support him.