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Romney aligns himself with Bush in Iowa

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By LIZ SIDOTI, Associated Press Writer

16 minutes ago

DAVENPORT, Iowa - Republican Mitt Romney aligned himself squarely with President Bush and his national security policies Wednesday, reaching out to GOP loyalists who hold the president in high regard, back the Iraq war and could sway the high-stakes nomination race.

"I support our troops, and I support what our troops are doing. I also support our president. I believe that the president has acted in good faith and out of a desire to protect this country to do everything in his power to keep America safe," the Republican presidential candidate said. He spoke after touring the Army's Rock Island Arsenal near this eastern Iowa river city.

Romney staunchly defended Bush in Iowa a few days after rival Mike Huckabee criticized the Bush administration's efforts in a Foreign Affairs journal article, denouncing a go-it-alone "arrogant bunker mentality" and questioning decisions on Iraq. The former Arkansas governor says his comments have been misinterpreted.

With polls in Iowa showing a competitive race for the Jan. 3 caucuses, Romney has assailed Huckabee at just about every campaign appearance, criticizing him for the journal comments as well as for his stances on immigration, taxes, spending and crime. Romney led in the state for months after pouring millions of dollars into TV ads, but Huckabee has recently zoomed past him in opinion polls.

Standing on the Mississippi River bank alongside snow piles, Romney sought to lower expectations for him in the caucuses. He twice noted that polls show Huckabee with a double-digit lead in Iowa. But he was referencing out-of-date figures; more recent polls show Huckabee's lead narrowing to single digits.

"I've got a lot of work ahead of me," Romney said, adding that he's confident that once Iowans learn Huckabee's positions, "they're going to say this is not someone who they'll support for the nomination."

Romney's nomination strategy is based on using momentum from wins in Iowa and New Hampshire to propel him to victories beyond. But little more than two weeks before voting begins, he's battling competitors in both states as the races grow more intense by the day. He's trying to overtake Huckabee, who has rallied religious conservatives in Iowa, while at the same time hold off a challenge from John McCain in New Hampshire.

His campaign schedule this week underscored his frenetic effort to turn a year of methodical campaigning into wins.

Romney spent Monday in New Hampshire, flew around South Carolina on Tuesday, campaigned in Iowa on Wednesday, and was to do the same Thursday before returning to New Hampshire on Friday to campaign through the weekend.

With the first test approaching quickly, Romney made a play Wednesday for Republican faithful with his praise for Bush.

While Romney acknowledged that the administration made mistakes in the course of the Iraq war, he said Bush's troop-increase strategy is the right one and "these mistakes were not made out of arrogance or a bunker mentality" — countering Huckabee.

"The president is a person who is deeply devoted to this country and doing what's right for this country, and protecting American lives," Romney said.

All year, Republican presidential candidates have walked a careful line in how they've spoken of Bush. They've typically given him passing credit for some accomplishments, including preventing another attack since Sept. 11, 2001, while talking more critically on issues like rising federal spending with Bush at the helm.

Candidates have been mindful that while Bush's popularity among the general public is low, it's not low among Republicans, and while most people have soured on the Iraq war, many Republicans continue to back it.

An Associated Press-Ipsos poll this month found that about three-fourths of people who lean Republican support Bush and his handling of foreign policy issues, while slightly fewer support him on Iraq. A majority of conservatives back him generally, and on those issues as well.

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