Nightly News | December 26, 2011
LESTER HOLT, anchor: To presidential politics, now. Just eight days from the Iowa caucuses , the Republican candidates took an ever so brief break to spend Christmas with their families. Now it's back to slugging it out on the campaign trail. Meantime, the first family continues their Hawaiian holiday. Our White House correspondent Kristen Welker , who is traveling with the president in Honolulu , is covering it all for us tonight. Kristen , good evening.
KRISTEN WELKER reporting: Good evening to you, Lester . Well, President Obama is relaxing here in Hawaii . It is a stark contrast to the Republican presidential candidates who are gearing up for the homestretch in Iowa and trying to get their ducks in a row.
Unidentified Man #1: How'd you do?
Former Senator RICK SANTORUM: I did all right.
WELKER: Fresh from pheasant hunting with the locals, Rick Santorum is taking aim at Iowa 's undecided voters, hoping to win them over before next week's Republican caucuses.
Sen. SANTORUM: And I've also -- someone who's run the kind of campaign that you can get behind, someone who's run a very strong, steady campaign and done it the way that the people of Iowa , you know, wanted to, you know, want to see a campaign run.
WELKER: Santorum is not the only candidate banking on last-minute theatrics. Michele Bachmann has scheduled 10 more stops tomorrow in her whirlwind attempt to visit all 99 Iowa counties .
Representative MICHELE BACHMANN: I want to thank Iowa for taking this process so seriously.
Former Governor MITT ROMNEY: How you doing?
Unidentified Man #2: Good.
WELKER: And after months of virtually ignoring the state, Mitt Romney continues to spend last-minute money here, unveiling this ad today.
WELKER: Romney had struggled to persuade the Republican base that turns out for caucuses and primaries that he is a true conservative.
WELKER: And finally today, Rick Perry also released a new ad, claiming Washington is the problem.
WELKER: Recent Iowa polls show Ron Paul at the top of the heap, building on a base of support that has been consistent throughout the volatile polling season.
Mr. LARRY SABATO (University of Virginia Center for Politics Director): There have been lots of ups and downs. There have been six front-runners over the past year in Iowa , but there is no clear front-runner heading into the actual caucus.
WELKER: And Newt Gingrich , the latest national front -runner before attack ads
eroded his position, encountered another setback this weekend: failing to get enough signatures needed to qualify for the Virginia primary, the state where he lives.
Former Representative NEWT GINGRICH: Look, we're disappointed but it was our fault.
WELKER: Gingrich and Romney will both launch bus tours in Iowa this week. Now President Obama ends his year with a temporary victory in the ongoing payroll tax cut fight. Today he went hiking with family members on the windward side of Oahu , which includes several World War II -style bunkers.
Lester: Kristen , thanks. And one more note from the president's Hawaiian holiday that caught our attention. The president posing for a picture last night at the Marine Corps base at Kaneohe Bay , when eight-month-old Cooper Wall Wagner stole the show, sticking his hand right in the president's mouth while his parents were busy saying cheese. The president joked that he thought Cooper liked his, quote, "big nose."