Nightly News   |  January 03, 2012

Iowa nice turns Iowa mean

Early returns show former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Texas Rep. Ron Paul and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum are leading the race in Iowa. But as the caucus race drew to a close, the rhetoric escalated. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reports.

Share This:

This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> good evening. just a short time from now, the presidential election year process will begin officially as iowans, the most politically involved citizens in that state will go to one of 1700 caucus locations from gymnasiums to churches to living rooms. they'll gather in groups for the candidate of their choice. and later tonight we will have the results. while we may have a new front-runner tomorrow morning , we may not have as many candidates tomorrow. the first stage of this costly and grueling race is ours from an end. our team is on the ground and set, and we start off our coverage tonight with andrea mitchell at the polk convention center in downtown des moines . andrea, good evening.

>> reporter: good evening, brian. blame it on the high stakes or new rules preventing millions of dollars in negative ads. but in the final hours before tonight's caucuses, iowa nice has turned into iowa mean. mitt romney was the confident front-runner. ron paul the populous pied piper of the young. but the man with momentum, rick santorum trying to overtake them both.

>> mitt romney thinks he's going to win tonight.

>> good for him.

>> reporter: the rhetoric is escalating.

>> you characterized mitt romney earlier as a liar.

>> no, i was asked if i thought he was a liar, i said yes.

>> do you still believe he's a liar?

>> sure.

>> why do you feel that way?

>> because he doesn't tell the truth.

>> reporter: newt gingrich is complaining about a barrage of negative ads.

>> what i object to, you have millionaire candidates who buy consultants who deliberately lie.

>> reporter: romney brushed off gingrich 's charge.

>> mr. gingrich called you a liar today, what do you have to say about that? governor, is that the way to campaign?

>> we're not taking questions.

>> reporter: romney reporters seemed to think gingrich was overwrought.

>> there's a lot of pressure in the campaign. obviously candidates deal with it in different ways.

>> reporter: the negative ads are unprecedented in iowa . they've had a huge impact. the good old days where you bounced around from living room to living room are over. now you have to fend off these huge attack ads from your opponents.

>> reporter: and this emotional moment after allen combs criticized rick santorum and his wife for taking the infant baby home from the hospital after he died.

>> we brought our child home so our children could see him. recognizing humanity in your son is somehow weird, somehow odd and should be subject to ridicule.

>> reporter: in this unpredictable contest, ron paul is still drawing crowds. and rick perry is trying to recover from a calamitous series of stumbles.

>> this is omaha beach . this is going up the hill, realizing that the battle is worth winning.

>> reporter: the question now, whether a single conservative challenger emerges to take on romney . and whether he can breakthrough to more voters.

>> what is it about the citizens?

>> i think people will get to know him and understand that he really does have a great sense of humor and he's really approachable.

>> reporter: and if we need any more proof of how unpredictable iowa is this year, michele bachmann who won the iowa straw poll in ames last august is now dead last in the polls.

>> what a day, as we come down to the wire. andrea mitchell , we'll be talking to you later.