DES MOINES, Iowa The stage is set for a wild showdown in Iowa for the Republican presidential caucuses on Tuesday.

A Des Moines Register poll shows Mitt Romney in the lead, with Texas Rep. Ron Paul not far behind.

A late surge by Rick Santorum has him in third place, followed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry, at 11 percent.

The candidates have set grueling schedules; Santorum had six appearances around Iowa on Monday and Newt Gingrich made five stops.

Paul also had five meet-and-greets in five different Iowa cities. If he pulls out a win on Tuesday, Iowa republicans will have chosen a nominee who's previously been dismissed as a fringe candidate.

Paul's campaign headquarters is nestled in a strip mall 20 minutes north of downtown Des Moines. Dedicated volunteers have helped rocket the longtime Texas congressman into striking distance of Mitt Romney a big accomplishment for the candidate on his third try for the White House.

Dimitri Kesari, Paul's deputy campaign manager, said the candidate values the Constitution and he's consistent. That's part of the reason why volunteers from across the country brave the wicked Midwestern cold to help.

I don't think our volunteers care about poll numbers; they are just enthusiastic about making sure we can turn out all our people, Kesari said. If we turn out who we need to turn out, then we have a good chance of doing very well here.

Some Texas college students paid their own way to Iowa, and are prepared to work for Ron Paul with wide-eyed enthusiasm.

I think Ron Paul is captivating with the youth voters, said Sammy Vasquez, a volunteer from San Antonio. I think it's been awesome seeing it explode like it is.

It's just been pretty awesome participating in the politcal process here, added Houston volunteer Mark McDaniel.

The Paul campaign believes the youth support makes him an electable candidate.

I came here because I think that Ron Paul is genuine in everything that he says, and I think that he is somebody that I would be proud to support, said Holli Furrh, a volunteer from Kemp.

One candidate desperate for a late lift in Iowa is Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann. In the days leading up to the caucuses, she continues to stress that she is the only woman fighting for the nomination.

Bachmann has been urging voters to embrace the idea of a strong woman in the White House and is comparing herself to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

America needs a candidate that will be in the legacy of a Ronald Reagan and of a Margaret Thatcher, Bachmann said. That's what I intend to do, is to be America's 'Iron Lady.'

Bachmann's approach is much different than Hillary Clinton's four years ago. For the most part, Clinton rarely mentioned the issue of gender and she she received more than 18 million primary votes.

Only after Clinton dropped out of the 2008 race did she acknowledge the historic nature of her candidacy.

There's no rest for the weary. Later this week, some of the candidates will head to New Hampshire. The Granit State's primary is January 10.

But New Hampshire is Mitt Romney's home state, so most of the Republicans including Rick Perry will instead head to South Carolina for the January 21 vote there.

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