It seems Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney may at last be melting enough hearts to secure his front-runner status — for the moment, anyway. The Des Moines Register's final poll before Tuesday's Iowa caucuses put Romney ahead in what looks to be a three-man race.
The poll, released Saturday night, showed Romney in the lead at 24 percent. Congressman Ron Paul was a very close second at 22 percent, and a surprise surge put Sen. Rick Santorum third at 15 percent.
Yet even with his challengers close on his heels, Romney's focus was elsewhere on Saturday. Stopping in Le Mars, Iowa — the self-proclaimed "Ice Cream Capital of the World" — his speech, like all Romney campaign speeches, was about President Obama.
"This is an election to decide whether we're going to go further and further down the path of becoming more and more similar to a European welfare state, or whether instead we're going to remain an exceptional nation," he told the audience at the Family Table Restaurant.
There was also a nod to Ronald Reagan-style eloquence.
"I don't want to do what the president said, 'fundamentally transform America.' I don't want to turn us into something we're not," Romney said. "I want to bring back the principles that made us the hope of the earth. We are still a shining city on a hill."
Romney did make some news at the restaurant regarding the DREAM Act, a bill that would create a path to citizenship for children of illegal immigrants. An audience member asked if he would veto the bill if Congress passed it. The candidate said he would.
Romney went on to detail his plan to reduce illegal immigration.
"Secure the border with a fence, make sure we have enough border patrol agents to secure the fence, and I will also crack down on employers that hire people who are here illegally," he said.
The latest poll by The Des Moines Register puts Romney in the lead in Iowa with 24 percent, just ahead of Congressman Ron Paul, who has 22 percent.
Still, many Iowa Republicans still have misgivings about Romney. They don't like the health care law he signed as governor. There are suspicions about his social conservative credentials and about his Mormon faith.
None of these came up Saturday. The audience, which included still undecided voters, was friendly.
Le Mars Mayor Dick Kirchoff was at the restaurant. He has not endorsed a candidate, but says Romney is "a very honest individual."
"To me, he's got a plan on how to turn things around, and that's important in my world," Kirchoff says.
Retired engineer Bud Withrow, 76, says he's a reluctant Romney supporter. It's more a product of his dissatisfaction with the rest of the field.
"I'll go ahead and sign up, take my paper to vote, and I will vote for Mitt Romney," he says, "but I feel uneasy about it."