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GOP presidential hopefuls begin circling Iowa

With the Iowa caucuses just a few months away, potential Republican presidential candidates have been reaching out to the state's party leaders and scheduling more appearances.

March 03, 2011|By Michael A. Memoli, Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — — Potential presidential candidates have stepped up their courtship of Iowa caucusgoers as the Republican field finally begins taking shape, the state's GOP chairman said Thursday.

Potential presidential candidates have stepped up their courtship of Iowa caucus-goers as the Republican field finally begins taking shape, the state's GOP chairman said Thursday.

"On the ground you can feel the earth starting to move a little bit," Matt Strawn said at a meeting with reporters in Washington.

He said would-be candidates are increasingly reaching out to state lawmakers for potential endorsements, and that the frequency of waters-testing trips has picked up. An event Monday sponsored by the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition will include four likely candidates, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Candidates thinking of skipping the state's nominating contest — the first in the nation — do so at their own peril, Strawn warned.

"I don't know why you would want to take yourself out of the national conversation by not participating in Iowa," he said.

But candidates in recent cycles have done exactly that, most notably the GOP's ultimate nominee in 2008, John McCain. The Arizona senator ultimately focused his efforts on the nation's first primary in New Hampshire, a gamble that paid off.

The calculation some Republicans make is based on the notion that social conservatives play an outsized role in Iowa's Republican caucuses. But Strawn said the dynamic has changed.

"We have newly engaged 'tea party' activists, more Republicans who were probably enraged by what they saw at the federal government level with spending," he said. "Those newly engaged voters are going to be looking at the candidates for leadership on fiscal issues."

Also different from 2008 is the presence of an incumbent Democrat in the White House.

"Iowa Republicans have seen what a Barack Obama presidency has done to America," Strawn said. "I think there is a sense of greater deliberation amongst Iowa Republicans on who they may support because they really understand the stakes of not being successful in November 2012."

Strawn also expressed confidence that the Iowa caucuses, currently scheduled for Feb. 6, would retain their status as the first nominating contest of the 2012 calendar. Florida Republicans have, despite entreaties from the national party, said they intend to go ahead with a January primary in violation of party rules.

michael.memoli@latimes.com

twitter.com/mikememoli

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