Across a wind-whipped Iowa, the runners in the Republican nomination race reached out for support one last time yesterday, amid signs of continuing skittishness among voters who will gather in caucus meetings tonight to pick their favourite to take on Barack Obama in November.
As the numbers come in tonight the long pre-amble to the 2012 presidential contest will be over and the first blood in the struggle for the Republican nod will be spilled. There are seven runners and often only three or four survive Iowa to fight the state-by-state primaries starting in New Hampshire next week.
Polls show that as many as half of the likely caucus-goers are undecided, with three candidates bunched at the front of the pack – Mitt Romney, pictured, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum. Mr Santorum, a former Senator from Pennsylvania, was staging a well-timed eleventh hour surge after languishing low in the polls for months.
"I think we have the momentum here," a clearly energised Mr Santorum declared inside the Rising Sun Café in Polk City, filled to bursting. Conceding his prospects were transformed, Mr Santorum said his campaign had "raised more money in the last few days than we have in the last few months".
The stakes tonight might be highest for those now relegated to the bottom half of the pack, including Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann and Texas Governor Rick Perry.
As they pushed their way into the Café to hear Mr Santorum, many local voters, including the Mayor of Polk City, Gary Heuertz, admitted they were still unsure who to pick among the Republicans.
"Many people think there could be better people out there," Mayor Heuertz said. As for Mr Romney, he said: "I couldn't vote for him, because I think he's just a bit too... but I'm not going to go there". When asked if "slick" was the word, he nodded.