Iowa conservatives debate how to stop Romney

As Mitt Romney hints he'll make play for Iowa, key social conservatives in the state held a secret meeting to talk about how to prevent him from winning there.

At least 20 representatives of several influential conservative groups in the state—including the Family Leader, Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition and Iowa Right to Life—met in Des Moines Monday talk about ways to stop Romney, according to CNN's Shannon Travis.

Participants told CNN that their goal is to keep the groups united, avoiding a split among social conservative voters in the state that would allow Romney enough of a margin to sneak through with a surprise win..

"Our concern is that if the conservatives stay as fragmented as they are, that Romney could win the Iowa caucuses. And if he wins the Iowa caucuses, he'll be the nominee," Family Leader head Bob Vander Plaats told CNN. "So I think there's an urgency to say, 'Well, who is the person that could best challenge [Romney] then move on after Iowa?"

Social conservatives have long been influential in Iowa's first in the nation caucuses. But the voting bloc is currently split among Ron Paul, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann—all of whom have been playing up their conservative credentials in recent months in hopes of becoming a clear alternative to Romney in the state.

In a private fundraiser earlier this month, Romney suggested to donors that he doesn't believe he'll win in Iowa, but he said he could do well in the state without spending much money because the social-conservative vote will be split.

But Romney's campaign has hinted in recent days he'll invest more time and money in Iowa in the run-up to the state's Jan. 3 caucuses than the candidate previously suggested. The former Massachusetts governor is in the state Wednesday, where he's touting an influential endorsement from South Dakota Sen. John Thune, whom many Iowa-based social conservatives had hoped would make his own 2012 bid.

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