Afternoon Update: The Republicans

** Mitt Romney's attempts to dial back expectations aren't too convincing. For a year, his campaign's success has been based on winning performances in Iowa and New Hampshire. They've not deviated from the strategy, even at their peril. The strategy might pay off, but if Romney fares poorly in either state, he may have enough money to last a few more weeks, but he will effectively have ended his campaign.

“I can't possibly predict that I'm gonna take first place in any particular state.”



** Just as improbably, Mike Huckabee called himself the "underdog" today.

** A third place finish in Iowa by John McCain would be a major story, and it might be enough to put the kibosh on Romney's chances in New Hampshire. So Romney needs to win Iowa convincingly in order to repel the McCain momentum in New Hampshire.

**Romney's Iowa co-chair, Doug Gross, admits that if evangelical turnout approaches 50%, it would be very tough for Romney to win.

** Per CBS News's Scott Conroy, a verbatim transcription of Gov. Romney's sarcastic welcome of McCain to Iowa.


.Welcome to Iowa, senator ... I will point out that they're fine and honorable people. I just happen to disagree with them on some issues and with regards to senator McCain. I think he was just wrong to vote against the Bush tax cuts twice. He continues to defend that vote. He continues to believe it was the right thing to vote no on the bush tax cuts, despite the fact that the bush tax cuts helped working families, helped people meet their obligations. It also helped rebuild our economy in a time we'd gone into an economic tailspin. So in my view, those choices, those tax cuts were needed and essential and positive and he disagrees. And then on a second front, immigration, he was the final champion of that last bill that came before the senate that would have said to every illegal alien in this country you get to stay here forever.


McCain unveiled another tough web ad designed to drive the conversation about Romney.



** As Romney, McCain and Huckabee tangled in Iowa, Rudy Giuliani kept the focus on what his campaign calls "the terrorists war on us" and proposed to double the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.