DES MOINES, Iowa The Romney campaign and the candidate himself woke up here this morning to a headline plastered across the front page of the Des Moines Register that could hardly have been less hospitable.
"Final Stretch in Iowa: Edge to Obama," it says, atop a story about a Register poll that has President Obama up by five points in a state Mitt Romney hoped to turn.
With the race in a dead heat and time ticking away, Romney arrived in Des Moines last night for an early morning rally, before heading off for events today in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Florida.
In Iowa, he's hoping to build on support he's gotten recently from surprising corners, including the Des Moines Register, which--the first Republican presidential candidate it has backed in 40 years.
This morning at the Des Monies Convention Center, more than 4,000 people cheered Romney on as he spoke in big, sweeping language about America's greatness and promise.
"We're Americans! We can do anything!" he exhorted, as the crowd spontaneously started chanting, "two more days! Two more days!"
The crowd, as crowds do in these rallies, clearly believes. Two of the women I spoke with afterward say there's a new enthusiasm in Iowa for Romney. They talked about the debate, how people were proud of his performance and are tuning out the negative ads.
But the problem for Romney is that kind of anecdotal evidence, delivered by committed supporters who bothered to go to a Sunday morning rally, is not reflected in, which has the president leading 47 to 42 percent over Romney.
Now you can argue with the poll--and plenty are this morning. After all, the weekend before the election four years ago, the Register poll had then-Senator Obama beating John McCain by 17 points. He instead won by nine.
"Obama's not going to win by five," a GOP strategist told me at this morning's rally. "It is going to be close--less than 10,000 votes."
Note that adviser is not predicting Romney will win--or lose--only that it will be close. That's what their internal polls say here--a dead heat.
Romney needs Iowa because it would lessen the pressure on him to win Ohio, which has remained tough for him to crack. That's largely because he was targeted throughout the summer with negative ads skewering him as a rich and heartless corporate raider--and one who would turn his back on the auto industry, to boot.
He was able to change some of those impressions with his performance in the first debate--but not all of them. And some of that is reflected in the Iowa poll.
There's been no positive movement for Romney since the newspaper's poll in September, when the president led by four. And on nearly every measure--the economy, leadership, honesty, trustworthiness--they give the nod to Mr. Obama.
Moreover, the poll says voters here are more optimistic and increasingly believe the country is on the right track--which may be a reflection of Iowa's improving economic picture. Unemployment is now at 5.2 percent--below the national average of 7.9 percent.
Romney prevails on two qualities: reducing the deficit and best at uniting Republicans and Democrats. The latter is not insignificant, and Romney has been pushing a message of bipartisanship that seems to be resonating.
But is it enough? As the crowd this morning reminds us, we'll know in two more days.