WASHINGTON -- Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich's trailing rivals derided the leading Republican contenders on Sunday as insufficiently conservative, each trying to find a second wind in the race to become the nominee with time running out before voting begins.
Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota combined the two leaders into a "Newt Romney" character. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas said Gingrich and Romney "come from the same mold." Texas Gov. Rick Perry said voters aren't looking for a fact-spewing "robot."
"As I was studying the candidates, especially Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, it is very clear that there's not a dime's worth of difference between the two of them, because both of them have advocated for the health care mandate," Bachmann said. "In Newt Gingrich's case for 20 years. And in Mitt Romney's case, he's the only governor in the United States' history to put into place socialized medicine."
Iowa's lead-off caucuses are coming quickly. The candidates have spent months -- if not years -- preparing for the nominating process that starts Jan. 3. Perry spent Sunday in Iowa and planned to return Wednesday for a marathon bus tour across the state.
Gingrich and Romney plan competing events today in New Hampshire, where Gingrich will debate former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman. Both Gingrich and Romney plan to return to Iowa later in the week.
Gingrich, Bachmann, Perry and former Sen. Rick Santorum plan to attend an event with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee on Wednesday; all plan to participate in the campaign's 13th debate Thursday.
The also-rans hope to deflate Romney and Gingrich by noting similarities on issues that could concern conservatives. Romney and Gingrich at one time backed requiring individuals to purchase health insurance, although both decry the federal provision in Democrats' health care law. Both also supported the Wall Street bailout, government subsidies for ethanol and the science suggesting humans play a role in climate change -- all toxic among the party's orthodox.
The pair's rivals are unwilling to concede the race is down to the two. An NBC News/Marist poll released Sunday shows Gingrich surging to more than 42 percent support to Romney's 23 percent in South Carolina; in Florida, Gingrich is favored 44 percent to Romney's 29 percent. No one else in the field breaks 10 percent in either state.