Des Moines, Iowa (CNN) – Rick Perry again likened the Republican nomination fight to a "marathon" on Tuesday and said the race begins tonight at the Iowa caucuses.
Perry was doing some last-minute campaigning alongside his top surrogate, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, at Principal Financial Group in Des Moines.
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"It's game on today," Perry told employees of the company. "As Bobby [Jindal] said, it's like the Super Bowl is starting now. I don't get confused that this is a marathon. It's going to go on for some time."
Perry began characterizing the GOP race as a long haul in recent days, after his Iowa fortunes started to fade in the wake of Rick Santorum's late bump in the polls.
Few Republicans in Iowa believe Perry will nab one of the coveted top three spots on Tuesday night, but Perry's team argues that two of the likely top finishers – Ron Paul and Rick Santorum – are not viable candidates in the long run.
A fourth place finish, in their view, would eliminate Newt Gingrich and leave Perry as the only strong conservative alternative to frontrunner Mitt Romney.
Perry is planning to skip the New Hampshire primary, which appears primed to hand Romney a comfortable victory.
Instead he will decamp Wednesday to friendlier turf in conservative-leaning South Carolina, where he hopes to make an aggressive final stand as the anti-Romney.
Perry said there is one message he wants caucus-goers to remember before they cast their votes tonight around Iowa: "That this is a governor who understands what freedom is about."
Perry will appear on CNN's "John King, USA" at 6 p.m. ET Tuesday, along with Santorum and former candidate Herman Cain.