HAMPTON, N.H. (AP) - A confident Mitt Romney called President Barack Obama "a footnote in history" Saturday morning, ignoring his Republican rivals altogether during a campaign stop in New Hampshire three days before the Iowa caucuses.
"This president has been a failure," Romney told hundreds of supporters packed into the Old Salt Restaurant half a continent away from where Iowa Republicans will formally launch the GOP nomination contest Tuesday.
Both Romney and Ron Paul, the leading Republican presidential candidates in Iowa, left that stage to their rivals Saturday. Paul was taking time off in his home state of Texas. Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and Rick Perry all remained in Iowa, touring the state as they worked to win over the many still-undecided conservative voters.
Not a single vote has been cast in the GOP contest, but Romney has suggested in recent days that he's increasingly likely to capture his party's presidential nomination whether he prevails in Iowa or not. And while his Republican competitors go after each other, he's largely fine tuning a general election message aimed at Obama.
The country has "major challenges and he hasn't dealt with them," Romney said, adding that Obama would be judged as "a footnote in history."
Romney and Paul are poised to do well in Iowa. Both are leading in polls and have the money and organization to turn supporters out to caucus Tuesday night.
But with just days until voters begin to select the GOP nominee, the other candidates are still fighting in a volatile race that's seen candidate after candidate rise only to quickly fall. The same polls suggest large numbers of Iowa Republicans could change their minds before the first test of the 2012 campaign.
Romney's brief trip to New Hampshire, which included two stops Friday night and Saturday morning, was intended to show that he can compete in multiple states while his rivals are focused solely on Iowa.
"I think it's a tribute to Mitt that he'll be on the news in both Iowa and New Hampshire tonight and tomorrow," Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom said Friday night. "Mitt Romney is a national candidate. That means he's going to compete everywhere."
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman has campaigned almost exclusively in New Hampshire, pinning all his hopes on the Jan. 10 primary. He's attending six house parties Saturday across the nation's first primary state.
In Iowa, Santorum is the latest to draw intense interest. He has been rising in polls and drawing larger and larger crowds in recent days. The once resurgent Gingrich has fallen behind as negative ads have battered him on the airwaves and in mailboxes.
Bachmann's campaign has struggled since she won an informal Iowa poll in August. She's lost key staffers and some activists have urged her to drop out of the race. Perry, meanwhile, has spent millions on TV ads and is continuing a bus tour that consumed much of December.
Romney will return to Iowa later Saturday and will hold events in the western part of the state in areas he won when he first ran for president four years ago.
On Friday, he focused on Paul - Romney's closest rival in recent polling - calling the Texas congressman out of step with most Republicans.
"I don't think Ron Paul represents the mainstream of Republican thought with regards to issues, particularly in foreign policy," Romney told Fox News.
The libertarian-leaning Paul planned to spend the weekend out of Iowa. Campaigning Friday, he said he would have trouble voting for any of his Republican rivals if they won the nomination.
"They all are part of the status quo," he said.
Gingrich, now struggling, has said he wouldn't vote for Paul.
The usually combative former House speaker made headlines Friday when he broke down and wept as he talked about his mother's end-of-life illnesses.
"I do policy much easier than I do personal," Gingrich told an audience of women as he tried to regain his composure. The tears flowed as he responded to questions about his mother from a pollster and longtime political ally.
"My whole emphasis on brain science comes in directly from dealing with the real problems of real people," he said, his face distorting as he began to cry. "And so it's not a theory. It's, in fact, my mother."
Kathleen "Kit" Gingrich died in 2003. She was 77.
Whatever the impact of Gingrich's tears on the race for the White House, the video clip seemed destined to play repeatedly on television and the Internet.
Meanwhile, Romney's campaign said that despite an increasingly optimistic tone, he is not over-confident.
"We're realistic enough to know that Mitt Romney will win some contests and we're going to do less well in other contests," Fehrnstrom said. "He is confident in his message. And he's confident that he's the right person for the job. And I think that comes through."
Hunt reported from Des Moines, Iowa. Associated Press writer Holly Ramer in Campton, N.H., contributed to this report.