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Evan Vucci, Associated Press
Republican presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann, of Minn., meets with volunteers during a stop at her campaign headquarters on Saturday, Dec. 31, 2011 in Urbandale, Iowa. Republican presidential candidates are largely shifting from persuading voters to mobilizing them for Tuesday's caucuses.

The 2012 presidential election season officially kicks off today with what figures to be a three-man race among Republican presidential candidates in the Iowa caucuses.

The New York Times reports a number of Iowa polls run over the past week show former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Texas congressman Ron Paul closing the gap on former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. In the latest poll held by the Des Moines Register on Dec. 30, Romney and Santorum appear to be in a dead heat with Romney drawing 23 percent of the votes and Santorum 22 percent. Paul's numbers have trailed off, standing now at 16 percent in contrast to 22 percent, his highest result on Dec. 28.

Romney has been steadily near the top of the polls in Iowa even with surges from Newt Gingrich, Paul and Santorum in past weeks. Considering he did not initially expect to win in Iowa, this has come as a bit of shock and prompted an 11th hour push that saw his busiest day in Iowa on Monday with four stops around the state. "I think we're surprised to find ourselves in the hunt here in Iowa," a member of the Romney camp told NPR. "Back in the spring we didn't think we'd do that well in Iowa, but based on what we've been seeing and hearing over the past several weeks, we decided to invest more time by the candidate here." NPR also reports that Romney's backers in Iowa have remained supportive of the candidate for two reasons: his perceived ability to defeat Pres. Barack Obama in a general election and a business background that speaks to his ability to ostensibly turn the national economy around.

Gingrich, who once led many of the Iowa polls by as much as 25 percentage points, has wilted in Iowa under the cooling effects of a recent spate of attack ads from PACs founded by supporters of Romney and Paul. In an interview with CBS News this morning, Gingrich was asked if he believed Romney to be a liar. Gingrich replied, "Well, you seem shocked by it. Yes, what else can you say?" Referring to the attack ads, he added, "This is a man whose staff created the PAC — his millionaire friends fund the PAC, he pretends he has nothing to do with the PAC — it's baloney. He's not telling the American people the truth."

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. conceded Iowa long ago and continues to put all his eggs in the Hew Hampshire basket, where the presidential primary will be held Jan. 10. "They pick corn in Iowa but they actually pick presidents here in New Hampshire," Huntsman said in a New York Times Wire Service report. That intense focus on the Granite State is paying off with rising polling numbers, and even most polls peg him in the high single digits Huntsman is convinced he's not out of the New Hampshire race just yet. NPR reports NPR reports that even though Huntsman doesn't believe he'll necessarily win in New Hampshire, he can "come out of New Hampshire with a head of steam" and a sheen of electability.

Perry vows he's not out of the race yet, either. Huffington Post reports he told staffers in a morning meeting that Iowa is just a run-up to the first Southern primary in South Carolina on Jan. 21, where he expects to be competitive.

Once upon a time Rep. Michele Bachmann won Iowa's Ames straw poll; the LA Times contrasts that victory LA Times contrasts that victory last summer with her flagging support today. While wrapping up her Iowa campaigning Monday, Bachmann sounded conciliatory in saying to reporters outside her campaign bus, "It was a thrill. I want you to know what a privilege it has been."