DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Mitt Romney on Tuesday backpedaled a bit from his earlier prediction of a first-place finish in the Iowa caucuses as he made his final pitch to voters here
"It's hard to predict exactly what's going to happen," Romney said on MSNBC. "I think I'll be among the top group."
Monday night, Romney was more aggressive, telling hundreds of supporters in the Iowa town of Clive that he would win Tuesday's caucuses — and, eventually, the Republican nomination for president.
Still, Romney said Tuesday, the top three finishers "will get a good send-off into New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida" — the first three primary states.
Hours before the caucuses, he made his final pitch to Iowa voters in an ornate ballroom at the Temple for the Performing Arts in Des Moines.
Democrats will "poison the American spirit by pitting one American against another and engaging in class warfare," Romney said. "I believe in an America that is one nation under God, and I will keep it that way."
His chief opponents, polls show, are Texas Rep. Ron Paul and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, and thousands of caucus-goers remained undecided.
The former Massachusetts governor planned an evening gathering at the Hotel Fort Des Moines to await the caucus results.
Romney faces the same challenge he had in 2008: winning over conservatives skeptical of his moderate record, his changes on the social issues that are important to the state's many evangelical Christian voters and his Mormon faith.
But he faces diminished threats here from the two candidates his campaign worried most about: Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Instead of focusing on his rivals, Romney has stayed focused on Democratic President Barack Obama.
Perry is skipping next week's primary in New Hampshire to compete instead in the first-in-the-South primary in South Carolina. Gingrich's standing in polls has been badly damaged by a barrage of negative ads from Romney allies.
Romney has been ever more confident as he campaigned across Iowa after Christmas. He's been buoyed by the large crowds he's drawn and the excitement they've shown. And while advisers acknowledge that an Iowa win is far preferable to a second- or third-place finish, they say they're prepared to compete nationally in a way their rivals aren't