On the morning of the first battle for the Republican presidential nomination, the outcome seems too close to call. Most of the polls from the last several days show frontrunner Mitt Romney with a slim lead over Texas congressman Ron Paul, with a rising Rick Santorum poised for a possible upset thanks to the coalescence of social conservative support for his campaign (and possibly the supportive tweets of Rupert Murdoch). However, some have predicted that Paul will outperform his poll numbers in Iowa given his strong campaign and a caucus format that seems tailor-made for his enthusiastic base.

All the contenders have been in Iowa drumming up some final support, and most used the last several days to draw stark contrasts between themselves and the other candidates. Perhaps it was inevitable that candidates would take a negative tack in a race this volatile – Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Rick Perry and Mitt Romney have all led at least one poll in the state, and Santorum is gaining – but in the last several days the rhetoric has gotten truly extreme, especially from the candidates with little expectation of finishing in the top three.

Newt Gingrich, whose own support has withered in the state following a barrage of attack ads, called Romney a liar in an interview with CBS News:

CBS News chief White House correspondent Norah O’Donnell asked Gingrich about comments he had previously made about his chief rival and the Super PAC whose negative campaign ads have hurt his campaign: “You scolded Mitt Romney, his friends who are running this Super PAC that has funded that, and you said of Mitt Romney, ‘Someone who will lie to you to get to be president will lie to you when they are president. I have to ask you, are you calling Mitt Romney a liar?”

“Yes,” Gingrich replied.

“You’re calling Mitt Romney a liar?”

“Well, you seem shocked by it!” said Gingrich. “This is a man whose staff created the PAC, his millionaire friends fund the PAC, he pretends he has nothing to do with the PAC — it’s baloney. He’s not telling the American people the truth.”

After a Fox News interview this morning, Rick Santorum took a shot at his closest rival, telling a handful of reporters that “Ron Paul is disgusting.” Gingrich has also been dismissive of the libertarian congressman, telling CNN his views are “totally outside the mainstream of every decent American” and saying he couldn’t vote for Paul were he to get the nomination.

Amidst floundering poll numbers that belie the substantial money and time he spent in Iowa, Rick Perry resorted to his best Elmer Gantry routine during a rally in the coincidentally-named town of Perry, Iowa, telling caucus-goers that he feels God himself has ordained him for the presidency. The Daily Caller’s Alex Pappas reports:

“You know,” Perry said, “I’ve thought about what the prophet Isaiah heard from the Lord when he was asked, ‘Who shall I send,’ and, ‘Who will go for me?’ Isaiah said, ‘Here I am, send me.’”

Pivoting to his presidential campaign, Perry asked the more than 100 hundred [sic] supporters at the rally, “Are we going to answer that call?”

Later today at the West Des Moines Sheraton, Perry compared his bid for the nomination to the Normandy landings. From MSNBC:

“It is a powerful moment in Americans’ history, and you are on the front lines,” he added. “This is Concord. This is Omaha Beach. This is going up the hill realizing that the battle is worth winning.”

And on Fox News’s “America’s Newsroom” this morning, the Texas governor took shots at both Romney and Santorum:

“He’s running as a fiscal conservative and you look at his record in Washington, D.C. for those years that he was there — he is the king of pork barrel politics. You know, I love Iowa pork, but Washington pork I don’t have much use for.”

“I don’t have any doubt that if it is just me and Mitt Romney who the Republican primary voter is going to pick all across this country. They are going to pick the true, authentic conservative, not a conservative of convenience that Mitt Romney is.”

Michelle Bachmann, whose support remains in the single or low double digits, nonetheless predicted a “surprise” Tuesday night and dismissed any possibility of dropping out of the race.