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Mitt Romney working Iowa quietly for caucus surprise

By Thomas Beaumont

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Oct. 13 2011 1:16 a.m. MDT

It's also the next phase in a gradual and strategic increase in intensity, but one aimed at keeping campaign costs low while casting Romney as the strongest economy-focused candidate in the field.

It appears to be working.

Romney has ranked at or near the top of surveys of Iowa Republicans since June, while Perry, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and businessman Herman Cain have all taken their turn alongside him as a leading, more socially conservative alternative.

But there are risks.

Romney aides want to avoid a thumping by Perry, who has challenged Romney most aggressively as the field's leading economic conservative.

George W. Bush's 2000 victory in Iowa, with 41 percent of the vote, was seen as crushing and helped him survive losing the New Hampshire primary to John McCain.

Perry is struggling in Iowa after surging when he got into the race in August.

Since then, he's had to fend off attacks on parts of his record where he has deviated from conservative orthodoxy.

Compared with Romney, he's arguably a better fit for the state. He has been reaching out to fellow evangelicals, economic conservatives and agricultural-focused caucus goers — seen by some as keys to building a coalition similar to Bush's.

A second-place finish for Romney behind Bachmann, who also identifies with the evangelical conservative movement, would hurt Romney little. He could still enter New Hampshire as the leading economic conservative and hurt Perry.

An Iowa victory, which aides downplay, could vault Romney into New Hampshire — and, perhaps, beyond.

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