DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Projecting the confidence of a frontrunner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney swept into Iowa on Tuesday ahead of next week's presidential caucuses, looked past his Republican rivals and accused President Barack Obama of "misguided policies and weak leadership" in the White House.
"Mr. President, you have now had your moment. We have seen the results. And now, Mr. President, it is our time," Romney said. Aides added that by design, he spoke not far from where Obama campaigned four years ago this week en route to a caucus victory that set him on the road to the presidency.
Romney unleashed his attack on Obama as other Republican contenders vied in increasingly acerbic terms to emerge as his principal conservative rival in the long march of primaries to follow the Jan. 3 caucuses.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, slipping in recent polls, said he would not vote for Rep. Ron Paul if the Texan is the party's opponent against Obama next fall. In an interview on CNN, Gingrich said Paul holds views "totally outside the mainstream of virtually every decent American," noting that Paul said in a recent debate that it doesn't matter if Iran has a nuclear weapon.
There was no immediate response from Paul, who has run television ads critical of Gingrich.
In a measure of the political stakes, the candidates and allied groups have spent more than $12 million on commercials to air through caucus day next Tuesday. Romney, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and groups supporting the two men account for nearly half the total, according to one estimate.
Most of Romney's rivals preceded him into the state during the day at the end of a holiday lull, seeking support in caucuses that are likely to dispatch one or more of them to a hasty campaign exit.
"My idea of gun control? Use both hands," said Perry, setting out on a bus tour in hopes of resurrecting his once-promising candidacy. He also toughened his position on abortion, saying it should be prohibited in all cases.
In Dubuque, the first stop of a bus tour through Iowa, Gingrich said his own economic proposal for an optional flat tax as well as the elimination of all capital-gains taxes was a more pro-growth approach than Romney's prescription.
In a radio interview, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum said Romney had "sort of gotten a pass"' when he said in a recent debate that he had done all he could as Massachusetts governor to block same-sex marriages in the state.
Recent soundings suggest Paul is Romney's likeliest threat in Iowa. The Texan is due in the state on Wednesday.
A conservative with libertarian leanings, Paul commands strong allegiance from his supporters but appears to have little potential to expand his appeal and emerge as a serious challenger for the nomination. He was alone among the GOP contenders in a recent debate in saying the United States should not consider military action to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, an issue of significant importance to Israel. He warned against jumping the gun, adding, "That's how we got into that useless war in Iraq."
Romney, making his second run for the nomination, has relied on a well-funded and disciplined organization, generally strong debate performances and deep-pocketed allies to keep his balance as others have risen to challenge him and fallen back.