THE NOTE: Countdown to Iowa

Romney may have the top-notch organization, and he's certainly spent the most getting his message out.

But at the time where he should be closing the deal, he's being forced to reopen cans of rotten worms. Romney is "being dogged by questions about his shifts on issues, questions his aides had confidently predicted would have vanished by now," Michael Levenson writes in The Boston Globe.

"Rather than being put to rest, the queries have mushroomed into new attacks on Romney's character."

Romney's response? "I think its entirely appropriate in the political process to point out differences on important issues, but I don't think you have to make it a personal attack," he said, per ABC's Matt Stuart. (Remind us again, who started this thing?)

Who starts fights doesn't matter as much as who ends them, and it's former senator Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., who seemed eager to end his campaign on Sunday: "I need to come in second," he said. ABC's Christine Byun: "Under his own rules, Thompson could beat Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani in the caucuses and still be setting himself up to drop out of the race."

The campaign isn't clarifying his remarks -- anyone else feel like he's perhaps a little eager to end the short, strange trip of Fred '08?

Speaking of hard workers, Giuliani, R-N.Y., is down for TWO DAYS IN A ROW; we suppose he has to rest up since all those delegates are at stake in February. And he's chosen a prime caucus-night speaking spot -- in South Florida, James Pindell reports for The Boston Globe.

For the record, Clinton does plan on staying in Iowa long enough to thank her supporters, whispers to the contrary notwithstanding. "Well, my plan is to be here on caucus night. It's certainly what I'm planning to do," Clinton tells WHO-TV's Dave Price.

But one of Clinton's highest-profile surrogates found a different way to insult caucus-goers. Starting the nomination process in Iowa "makes no sense," said Gov. Ted Strickland, D-Ohio, per the Columbus Dispatch's Joe Hallett, Jack Torry and Darrel Rowland. (This is the kind of quote you're supposed to save for the off-year DNC meeting, governor.)

For all of the Iowa madness, a New York billionaire is grabbing more than his share of the limelight. Those bipartisan meetings in Oklahoma -- the one with all the "fed-up bipartisan bigwigs" -- could be Bloomberg's "launching pad" to a presidential bid, Adam Lisberg writes in the New York Daily News.

"Experts said the meeting could help Bloomberg, a political upstart, wrap himself in the mantle of respected elders from both parties while he considers whether to spend $1 billion or more on a campaign," Lisberg writes.

The New York Times' Sam Roberts inches a little closer: "Buoyed by the still unsettled field, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is growing increasingly enchanted with the idea of an independent presidential bid, and his aides are aggressively laying the groundwork for him to run."

The short answer on where things stand in Iowa, from ABC Polling Director Gary Langer: It's close. "This is where fascination with the horse race, particularly in a low-turnout caucus, will get you: tied up in knots," Langer writes.

"We want a single number and simple characterization. It doesn't exist. What we have are different polls done different ways, many of them overanalyzed to make something out of very little, in fluid and close races."

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