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It's Almost Caucus Time: Candidates Hone Last-Minute Messages

Good morning.

With just one full day of campaigning left before Tuesday evening's Republican caucuses in Iowa — the first truly important contest of the 2012 presidential election season — the stories and headlines are all about who's up, who's down and who needs to do what to survive and do battle again next week in New Hampshire.

The Des Moines Register, which got its quadrennial burst of attention over the weekend for its widely respected Iowa Poll (showing "a surprise three-way match-up in contention to win [between] Mitt Romney, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum") this morning runs through the "keys to success" and things "to avoid" for each contender.

Some of the advice experts have for the candidates, according to the Register:

-- Rep. Paul (R-Texas) should "stress the message that he has got a legitimate chance at the nomination and the presidency," but not look "defensive" as rivals attack.

-- Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, "should continue to look and act presidential, remain positive and hopeful, and push a message that he's the best GOP candidate to take on [President] Obama" while not "going overly negative."

-- Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, "needs to spend his final hours" emphasizing how hard he's campaigned in the state while also not "going too aggressively on the offensive."


-- Politico looks at the fire being aimed at the frontrunners (as well as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has slipped in recent polls).

-- The Washington Post's The Fix blog puts the odds of a Romney win at 1-1, Santorum at 4-1 and Paul at 5-1.

-- On Morning Edition, NPR's Ted Robbins reported on Santorum's rise in the Iowa polls. Also, NPR's Don Gonyea followed Romney's "aggressive final push through Iowa" and NPR's David Schaper reported about Gingrich's attempt to push back against "negative ads."

This all comes to a climax Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Iowa (8 p.m. ET) when Republicans gather to caucus at 1,774 precincts across the state. We'll have coverage throughout today and Tuesday, and starting in the evening tomorrow we'll be live-blogging as Iowa Republicans caucus and as results start to come in.

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