Confidence Man: Mitt Romney Heads Into The Final Stretch (The Note)

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone ) and AMY WALTER ( @amyewalter )

With just over two weeks to go until the Iowa caucuses, the vibe that that the Romney campaign is giving off these days is cool, calm and collected.

You could see it in Mitt Romney's "Fox News Sunday" interview with Chris Wallace yesterday. It was a 180-degree departure from his uncomfortable sit down with Fox's Bret Baier two-and-a-half weeks ago. Romney was confident but not cocky. Composed but not detached. He even showed some emotion.

"I think people who know me and interact with me know that I'm an emotional guy - I have very deep feelings about the country," Romney said, proving the point when he was asked about his wife, Ann, who has become a more constant presence on the campaign trail.

"She's remarkable woman and she's gone through some tough times," he said. "She had diagnoses of MS, she's had breast cancer and my feelings and passion haven't - for Ann - haven't changed in the slightest over the years."

And while Romney's getting personal in television interviews, his campaign is also on the air with ads in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. He heads to New Hampshire this week for a four-day swing that will include a bus tour up and down the state. He's also vacuuming up endorsements from politicians and editorial boards.

Just today the Chicago Tribune is reporting that Romney has won the endorsement of Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk. "America needs his managerial talent, team building spirit and hard-nosed sense of economic common sense," Kirk said, according to the newspaper.

Meanwhile, those in rival campaigns are saying that Newt Gingrich's numbers continue to drop in Iowa, and polls are beginning to bear that out. The former House Speaker spent his weekend not in one of the early nominating states but signing books outside Washington, DC and then defending his controversial ideas about reigning in the judiciary on CBS's "Face the Nation."

He also attempted to swat away Romney's endorsement by the Des Moines Register this weekend.

"I'm actually delighted because the Manchester Union Leader, which is a reliably conservative newspaper, endorsed me," Gingrich told CBS's Bob Schieffer. "The Des Moines Register, which is a solidly liberal newspaper, did not endorse me. I think that indicates who the conservative in this race is."

And trying to pick up those Newt defectors are Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum who are barnstorming across the Hawkeye State and taking every opportunity they can to bash the former Speaker.

Bachmann issued a scathing response to Gingrich's Sunday show appearance, demanding that he "come clean on his involvement with Fannie and Freddie" and explain his "his position on amnesty for illegal aliens," among other things.

On a Tea Party tele-town hall Santorum said he was the "only one in the race" who has done something about entitlement reform. "Newt talks about doing it as Speaker," Santorum said. "He wasn't the leader - I actually wrote the welfare reform bill."

And Perry accused Gingrich of borrowing money from the Social Security trust fund in order to balance the budget when he was speaker of the House. "Newt talks about balancing budgets and you know what he doesn't mention. I think he says they balanced the budget four times while he was speaker of the House," Perry told about 100 voters in New Hampton, Iowa this weekend.

On "Good Morning America" today, ABC's Jonathan Karl tackles this week's big question: Has Gingrich peaked too soon?WATCH:

ROMNEY PLANS GRANITE STATE BUS TOUR. As we noted above, Romney will spend the week before Christmas on a bus tour of New Hampshire. Here are some of the details, according to WMUR's James Pindell: "Romney will kick off a four day trip to the state Tuesday night when he gives a major policy speech in Bedford. He will follow that up Wednesday morning with the start of a three day bus tour in Keene. That tour will take him up the Connecticut River valley to Coos County, and back down to the Lakes Region."

ABC NEWS LAUNCHES GROUNDBREAKING POLITICAL WEBSITE: MEET OTUS. With all eyes on the first primaries and caucuses of the 2012 election cycle, ABC News is taking you into the action with the launch of - a new interactive destination for politics. OTUS ("Of the United States," a play on POTUS, "President of the United States") features the trusted political reporting and analysis of ABC News and invites users into the American political process with groundbreaking technology, engaging video, and immersive interactive experiences. Check out OTUS News' innovative Political Stock Market - a real-time snapshot of social sentiment, trending, search and the collective assessment of our political experts combined to determine the current "value" of each 2012 presidential contender. Its political punditry with a sophisticated dash of social media - a new way to measure who's up and who's down in a tumultuous campaign. THE SITE:

ABC's Jake Tapper explains the exciting new political website. WATCH:


-Political Stock Market: Breakthrough technology combines the collective analysis of our political experts at ABC News and social sentiment from publicly available Facebook and Twitter comments, search, trending, and influencer data compiled and weighted in collaboration with Bluefin Labs.  The market is open 7am-7pm ET, Monday-Friday, and is always visible at

-Match-o-Matic: Engaging, playful yet informative interactive challenges users to answer a series of policy questions on subjects ranging from the economy and jobs to security and health care to find their top three political candidate matches in the 2012 field.

-Game Changers: It's not your traditional Map to 270.  Pick the Republican contender you'd like to take on President Obama and game out the path to the victory.  Or, go back in time and play a fantasy match-up, pitting any presidential contender since 1960 against another.  Obama '08 v. Reagan '84.  Nixon '72 v. Kennedy '60.  What's your Hall of Fame Game?      

-Original Digital Video:

Politics in a Flash delivers the latest political news from the trail and Washington

Now I Get It explains politics terms and concepts in animated 90-second infographics

Candidates in 60 Seconds is a constantly updated, fast-forward review of each candidate's life and career to date

Politically Foul reviews the not-top-plays of the week or the moments the campaigns would rather forget.

-Daily Features:

By The Numbers highlights a symbolic number, why it's critical to the country, and what it might mean for our politics

Thrill of Victory, Agony of Defeat captures the good, bad and ugly moments from the campaign trail

Political Wisdom brings out the best quotes of the current contest and politics past

The Scorecard scrolls the best, constantly updating ABC News politics content, all in addition to unique photojournalism, interactive votes, and ABC News' political all-stars including George Stephanopoulos, Jake Tapper, John Berman, Jonathan Karl, Amy Walter and Rick Klein.

" takes the industry-leading and trusted assets of ABC News to the next level - adding new products such as the Political Stock Market, creative video series and greater depth and access in our coverage to meet the growing needs of our audience," said Joe Ruffolo, Senior Vice President, ABC News Digital.



UNDECIDED IOWA EVANGELICALS PRAY FOR AN ANSWER. "Just a few weeks ago, Kerry Jech, the pastor of New Hope Christian Church in Marshalltown, about an hour Northeast of Des Moines, was praying that he and other evangelicals like him would coalesce around one GOP presidential candidate. Now, he doesn't see that happening, but he's still looking towards God for an answer," reports ABC's Shushannah Walshe. "'I'm just really confused, I just don't know at this point who is the best one to support and I'm not sure what's going to push us one direction or the other,' Jech said, with just over two weeks before the Iowa caucuses. Faced with such a difficult decision, Jech said he's turning to the 'Holy Spirit' for guidance. … The evangelical community here is a large and influential voting bloc. In 2008, 60 percent of Republican caucus-goers identified themselves as evangelicals, according to ABC News pollster Gary Langer. That group, which includes politically active home school families, coalesced around former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, helping him beat Mitt Romney here despite the ten million dollars he poured into the state. This time there is no Huckabee to coalesce around, the electorate is splintered, and although most would like to ensure Romney's defeat on Jan. 3 there is no one candidate the group is rallying around."

GOP VOICES CONCERNS ABOUT GINGRICH'S ELECTABILITY. "From the House that Newt Gingrich once ran through the Washington establishment to state capitals across the nation, some Republicans are going public with their concerns that Mr. Gingrich would be a weak general election candidate and a drag on the party's fortunes if he won the presidential nomination," The New York Times' Jackie Calmes reports. 'Since we don't know how he got here, I don't know how he can be stopped,' said Ed Rogers, a longtime Washington lobbyist and party strategist who worked for the first President George Bush. Mr. Rogers, who has not endorsed anyone, is like many in the party who esteem Mr. Gingrich for his achievement in leading Republicans to the control of Congress in 1994, after 40 years in the House minority, but who recoil from the prospect of him at the top of the ticket given the controversy, scandal and electoral defeats that defined his four years as speaker. … Mr. Gingrich's team has dismissed the criticism as coming from Romney supporters, and has pointed to grass-roots support for his candidacy."

TEAM OBAMA FLEXES MUSCLES IN IOWA. "While a fractious Republican Party huddles at caucus sites across Iowa on Jan. 3, state Democrats will be quietly plotting a path to bring down the eventual GOP presidential nominee," ABC's Devin Dwyer reports. "The caucus-night effort, orchestrated by President Obama's re-election campaign and the state Democratic Party, will take place at hundreds of public schools and libraries, community centers and government offices in all 99 counties. Organizers say state and local party officials and a designated Obama campaign surrogate will brief volunteers on the field of Democratic candidates and the strategy for winning in 2012. A senior member of the Obama campaign - possibly the President himself - will deliver a live video message to each caucus gathering over the internet, state Democratic officials said. For Democrats the exercise will be less about numbers and turnout, as it was four years ago, and more about building a sense of urgency and energy for the quickly escalating campaign. 'Our expectation is simple. We carried Iowa for President Obama in 2008 and we will use the caucus this year as another step in our ongoing effort to organize our volunteers and build a campaign,' said John Kraus, the Iowa communications director for Obama for America."

Has GOP nomination fight dragged Newt & Mitt too far right to compete with Obama?  Actually, no, The New York Times' John Harwood writes:

BACHMANN MAY FACE A TOUGH FIGHT AT HOME. "There are few Houses races in the 2012 cycle with more uncertainty than Minnesota's 6th district. The Republican presidential primary and a redistricting stalemate have kept that campaign in second gear," Roll Call's Abby Livingston notes. "Rep. Michele Bachmann created a stir last summer when she suspended her Congressional re-election campaign while running for president. There was a legal logic behind the Republican's decision - Minnesota law forbids a candidate from running for two different federal office nominations within the same major party. But as the tea party darling has slid in the presidential polls and the Congressional races are ramping up, there is 'a lot of chatter' in the 6th about Bachmann's future, as one Minnesota Republican put it. … While Minnesota Republicans echo that Bachmann has their full support should she run for re-election, contingency plans are being hatched. Both local and national GOP officials insist a strong bench is ready to go in the event Bachmann doesn't run, and they say some 'are getting prepared' to jump into the race."

SUNDAY REPLAY: BOEHNER ON 'KICKING THE CAN.' ABC's Michael Ono rounds up the action on the Sunday shows: A day after the Senate voted 89-10 to extend the payroll tax cut by two months, Republicans in the House are signaling their displeasure with the short-term fix, saying action should have been taken to resolve the issue for the whole year. "I believe that two months is just kicking the can down the road. The American people are tired of that, frankly I'm tired of it," House Speaker John Boehner said on NBC's "Meet the Press." But it's not just the speaker who has problems with supporting the temporary extension, which the House is expected to take up on Monday. Sen. Roy Blunt, who was just elected to the Republican leadership in the Senate, he said that even though he voted to pass the two-month extension, the House is right to want a year-long extension. "I had a couple of calls from some of my buddies in the House in the morning saying we don't want to do this, we'd like the one-year extension," Blunt said on CNN's "State of the Union." Still some, like President' Obama's lead economic adviser Gene Sperling, are optimistic that Congress will close the deal before Christmas. "I think that it is very unlikely that the House would disrupt this compromise - overwhelming compromise - six days before Christmas," he said.

HOUSE DEMOCRATS ON OFFENSE. Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel has issued individual statements in the districts of over 70 vulnerable House Republicans  calling on them to support the payroll tax compromise. "At a time when hard-working families need every dollar in their pockets, Representative [Name of Member] is part of the partisan problem, risking a $1,000 tax hike on the middle class, rather than stand up to Tea Party extremists," Israel said in the statements. And beginning today the DCCC is launching a campaign of automated phone calls in 20 targeted districts, online advertising, and a new grassroots action website calling on House Republicans to "stop the Tea Party from forcing this middle class tax increase."

IN THE NOTE'S INBOX: NEW JERSEY GROUP TIES OBAMA TO CORZINE. The conservative advocacy group, Strong New Jersey, is out with a new web video today highlighting the connection between President Obama, Vice President Biden and former New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine.  According to the group, "Corzine as CEO of MF Global, recently presided over the bankruptcy and loss of $1.2 billion in client funds. Nobody knows Jon Corzine better than New Jersey. New Jersey rejected Jon Corzine's failed policies in 2009, while President Obama and Vice President Biden embraced him. While businesses left the state and families lost their jobs, President Obama and Vice President Biden campaigned aggressively for Corzine, praising Corzine and calling him for advice on how to improve the economy." WATCH:


@ fivethirtyeight : Our Iowa forecast, reflecting PPP poll, now shows: Paul 24, Romney 21, Gingrich 16, Perry 11, Bachmann 11, Santorum 10

@ ByronYork : New article: Jeb Bush pens campaign-like economic manifesto.

@ jmartpolitico : As he scrambles to get on ballots, Newt has hired an experienced operative, Martin Baker, to serve as pol dir.

@ ron_fournier : Politics of economics in 2012. You'll want to read this:

@ DavidMDrucker : Bill O'Reilly interviews  @MittRomney Monday eve, per O'Reilly on F&F.



- Newt Gingrich spends the day in Iowa where he'll hold a town hall in Hiawatha and address employees of Global Security Services in Davenport. Jackie Gingrich Cushman, the daughter of Newt Gingrich, will hit the campaign trail in South Carolina speaking at five events.

- Mitt Romney has no public events, but he will be a guest on "The Late Show with David Letterman" and read the "Top Ten List."

- Rick Perry's bus tour continues in Iowa with four events at local restaurants in Elkader, Manchester, Dyersville, and Dubuque. Anita Perry is campaigning for her husband in New Hampshire with four events.

- Michele Bachmann's bus tour makes ten stops in Iowa starting in Hampton and ending in Waverly.

- Rick Santorum will be the featured speaker at the Warren County GOP Dinner at the Indianola Christian Union Church.

-Jon Huntsman will address the Manchester Republican Committee Christmas Party in New Hampshire and speak at a town hall in Rindge.

-ABC's Josh Haskell

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