DES MOINES — Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign swept confidently through Iowa on Wednesday, beginning a three-day bus tour and raising questions about the national security positions of Ron Paul, whose libertarian-leaning small government message appears to have struck a chord with Republican voters here.
The two men now lead the Republican field in the state, according to a poll released Wednesday by CNN and Time Magazine, highlighting the continued deep divisions about what kind of standard bearer the party wants to put forward against President Obama.
Both candidates appear to have benefited from a decline in support for Newt Gingrich, who has been buffeted by negative advertisements from Mr. Paul and outside groups working on behalf of Mr. Romney. Mr. Gingrich lost more than half of his support, dropping him into basically a tie with Rick Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, whose support has tripled, according to the new poll.
Campaigning at a furniture store in Dubuque, Mr. Santorum expressed renewed optimism about his chances next week. He has picked up high-profile endorsements from conservative activists in Iowa in recent days and — thanks to a jump in fund-raising — is running a television advertisement that describes him as “a loving husband, a devoted father, homeschooler and a man of deep faith.”
Across Iowa, the six Republican contenders searched for a way to encourage their voters to caucus for them next Tuesday. Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry both criticized Mr. Paul’s foreign policy positions as they continued their bus tours across the state.