For any other candidate, this would be shrugged off as the motivational boilerplate that it is, but for Mr. Cautious, who usually treads lightly lest he be seen as gloating over his apparent inevitability, it’s uncharacteristic. Gingrich could get away with predicting that he’ll be the nominee because that sort of braggadocio is typical Gingrich and because there’s no real political cost in him saying so. But Romney? The last thing he wants to do is give grassroots conservatives even more motivation to take him down a peg.

Dude, he’s feeling it.

“You guys, I need you tomorrow night,” he told more than 600 people packed into an asphalt company’s truck garage. “I need every single vote in this room, and I need you to get a couple of other votes in your neighborhood, get them to caucus. I need a great showing here in Cedar Rapids. We’re going to win this thing with all our passion and strength and do everything we can to get this campaign on the right track to go across the nation and to pick up the states and to get the ballots I need and the votes I need to become our nominee. That’s what we’re going to get, with your help.”

Romney’s campaign has worked for months to keep expectations down, trying to prevent a repeat of the 2008 campaign, in which he was favored but came in a disappointing second place in the caucuses. But the candidate has been leading recent polls, and he was feeling his oats tonight in front of an enthusiastic crowd that clapped and whistled after several lines of his stump speech.

One of his staffers claimed afterward that he was predicting he’d win the nomination, not necessarily the caucus, but that’s not how the media will spin this tomorrow night if he finishes more poorly than he’s supposed to. They want some sort of excitement to write about through Super Tuesday, so if Romney leaves them an inch of room for a “disappointing expectations” storyline, they’ll lunge for it. Here’s tomorrow night’s inch.

Romney’s reportedly campaigning in Democratic areas of Dubuque tonight in hopes of turning out disgruntled O-bots tomorrow. If he can afford to spend time there instead of in redder districts, he really, really must be feeling it. If nothing else, he might be able to lock down a few votes that would otherwise go to Ron Paul; at best, he’ll get some Obama voters to commit to him now in hopes that they’ll stay with him in November. That’s why, I take it, he’s been spending at least as much time with liberal media as he has with conservative media. He’s already looking ahead. The Fox News viewers will come around eventually simply because they have to, but the sooner he can reach out to independents and center-leftists through their own preferred media, the sooner he can start to make the case against Obama to true undecideds. A nice luxury.

Via News Busters, here’s Scarborough predicting bloodsport among the base if Romney sweeps Iowa and New Hampshire. Exit quotation: “Iowa is about eliminating Gingrich and Perry without us having to spend a lot of money to do so.”