ABC News’ Michael Falcone reports:
DES MOINES — Over the past week, Mitt Romney has covered more ground in Iowa than he has during the rest of the primary season combined, and if his lead in pre-caucus polls holds by the end of tonight, that final seven-day push will have paid off.
Traveling roughly 1,400 miles on and off his campaign bus, Romney courted voters in all corners of the state. Some of the thousands who filled hotel ballrooms, company warehouses and coffee shops this week were already supporters, some were leaning his direction and some were weighing him against his rivals.
ABC News conducted interviews with dozens of voters across the state, and heard some indications of what Romney’s wife, Ann, characterized on Monday as a “feeling, a coalescing, a momentum” toward her husband’s candidacy.
Jennie Barnds, a stay-at-home mom, turned up in Davenport, Iowa one week ago to hear Romney’s closing argument speech to Iowans. She walked into event on the fence, and walked out a Romney supporter.
“I think it’s Mitt Romney,” Barnds said, pausing for a moment. “I know it’s Mitt Romney.”
She repeated a line that Romney worked into his stump speech this week, telling Iowans that this was an election, not only to throw President Obama out of the White House, but also to “save the soul of America.”
Barnds’ husband, Kent, sat by his wife listening to Romney. Afterward he told ABC News that he had been open-minded throughout the race, considering both Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich, but had decided to caucus for Romney.
“His emphasis on the economy is compelling,” Kent said.
Exactly one week later and nearly 200 miles across the state in Clive, a suburb of Des Moines, John Brown said his decision to support Romney came into focus only in the last few days.
“Mitt Romney is the best suited to get our economy back on track and, come November, is really the best suited to defeat Barack Obama,” Brown told ABC News on caucus eve. “My wife has lost two jobs since Obama became president, we’ve got to find some ways to get the economy going again, get the private sector going again so that people can get back to work.”
Brown, who brought his young daughter to a rally at a local business in Clive to get a glimpse of the former Massachusetts governor, considered supporting Perry and Gingrich, but concluded that neither would be able to beat Obama.
On an icy New Year’s Day, grain farmers Sue and Bruce Hoegh huddled in a crowded restaurant for a chance to meet Romney. Sue had already made up her mind: “I think he’s the man for the job. He’s got the experience in the private sector, and I just think everything he does is right on the money.”
A Romney volunteer handed Bruce a Romney sticker, which he dutifully wore on his lapel, but acknowledged that he was still thinking about caucusing for Gingrich.
“Mitt Romney has not got the most conservative record of the candidates, he said, “and I’m looking for him to convince me that he will follow through on some more conservative initiatives.”
He left the Family Table restaurant undecided.
Earlier in the week, Dan Donahue of Davenport said he had all but made up his mind, calling Romney “very intelligent.”
Donahue, who works for the farm equipment giant, John Deere, said Romney’s “got a proven track record, he’s turned things around, he’s smart and he’s not abrasive.”
The Davenport Republican predicted that Gingrich on, the other hand, was going “to piss somebody off” and worried if he were to be the party’s nominee, “we’re going to shoot ourselves in the foot.”
For all the concerns about Gingrich, Iowans who packed Romney’s events this week, often to overflow capacity, were almost universally opposed to Ron Paul.
“Of course we don’t want Ron Paul,” said a Mason City woman who refused to be identified by name. “How many people want isolationism — crawl in your little tent and how are you going to deal with the other countries?”
Three words graced the side of Romney’s campaign bus: “Businessman, Conservative, Leader” and in interviews voters often used those words to describe the presidential hopeful. They also appeared to respond well to Romney’s emphasis on patriotism and his recitation of lyrics from the song, “America the Beautiful” in all of his speeches.
At a plastics factory in North Liberty, Iowa Rhonda Hess explained why she was planning to caucus for Romney.
“His love of America — he has me convinced he really does love America,” Hess said. “I think he’s sincere.”
Hess brought her 89-year-old mother, Libbie Krug, to the Romney rally. She too said she liked Romney.
“I’ve listened to all of them and they all have some baggage,” Krug said of the Republican field, “but I think he has the least. And along with it, I think he has good ideas.”
Krug added, “It was Perry there for a while, but he didn’t get his name on the Virginia ballot. Well, he’s stuck right there.”
Before the sun rose last Wednesday, Bud Freers of Muscatine had already arrived at Elly’s Tea and Coffee shop for Romney’s first meet-and-greet event of the day. Like many Iowa voters he shifted his support between three candidates during the course of the pre-caucus season — first, it was Michele Bachmann, then Herman Cain, and finally, Romney.
“I’ve gone back and forth and I’m definitely for Romney now,” Freers said. “I decided last week that he’s the best businessman for the job.”
At the same coffee shop, Greg Wall, told ABC News he was unlikely to make up his mind before entering his caucus site Tuesday night, but predicted that his decision would come down to the two candidates who appear to have the best chance of winning Iowa — Romney and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
“Santorum looks pretty good,” Wall said. “He’s got government experience. I like what he has to say.”
But to the Muscatine Republican, Romney also looked like an attractive choice.
“He’s electable, he’s an outsider. He’s got government experience,” he said. “And I think he’s got the ability to do what he says he’s going to do.”