Potential GOP Candidates Find Their Way To Iowa

The Republican presidential field remains a work in progress. Major personalities such as Mike Huckabee and Donald Trump have announced they won't be candidates. New Hampshire, home of the first primary, is already jousting with rival Iowa, which has party caucuses a week earlier.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

We're still not sure about the makeup of the Republican presidential field. Mike Huckabee is out. We know that. Donald Trump - out. We know that. Some other candidates are still deciding whether to get in.

But there's no question which states are in the early running. New Hampshire, home of the first in the nation primary, is already jousting with rival Iowa, which has party caucuses a week earlier. In Iowa, Republican Governor Terry Branstad took issue when a New Hampshire Republican said that Iowa was beholden to social conservatives and no longer represented the party as a whole. NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA: Iowa's governor used his weekly news conference to defend his state and his party against the charge by the former New Hampshire state party chair that the Iowa GOP has become too dominated by Evangelical Christians, making it a waste of time for Republican White House hopefuls more concerned about fiscal issues. Here's Governor Branstad.

Governor TERRY BRANSTAD (Republican, Iowa): The truth is that Iowa is a full spectrum state.

GONYEA: Branstad pointed to his own victory last year, over a leading Iowa social conservative in the Republican gubernatorial primary. Turning to the 2012 race, Branstad said any Republican candidate needed to get their start in Iowa.

Gov. BRANSTAD: I just want to make it clear, that we're wide open for all of the candidates and there's an opportunity for the candidates to come and test the waters and see what kind of support they can generate.

GONYEA: That's all the more true, because 2008 Iowa winner Mike Huckabee announced, over the weekend, he won't be in the race this time around. And yesterday, New York business mogul Donald Trump put an end to speculation he would run.

Still, there are those who are already raring to go in Iowa.

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Unidentified Woman: Today, Republican Newt Gingrich started his first campaign trip as a candidate for president here in Iowa. Gingrich hit Des Moines and Dubuque before this stop in Cedar Rapids...

GONYEA: Newt Gingrich is now on a 17 city tour of Iowa.

Atlanta businessman Herman Cain was also in the state yesterday. Congressman Ron Paul was there last week. Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty has been a frequent visitor, as has his fellow Minnesotan, Michele Bachmann. And next week, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney will be in Des Moines. So the buzz is building.

And anyone trying to decide how much to contest Iowa has to be encouraged by the news that Huckabee is out. So says Steffen Schmidt of Iowa State University.

Mr. STEFFEN SCHMIDT (Iowa State University): Huckabee was hovering above all of the others as sort of the ghost of caucuses past.

GONYEA: For now at least there seems to be no obvious inheritor of Huckabee's supporters. David Yepsen is a political analyst who covered Iowa politics for more than three decades.

Mr. DAVID YEPSEN (Political analyst): The effect of major candidates like this, or potential candidates getting out or the race, the effect on Iowa is to just make it a jumble. People tend - who had a preference, tend to stay undecided for a while. They want to take a look at the race and who else is in it. So this is a period of great flux in this race.

GONYEA: If past contests are any guide, some Republican candidates will try to make their mark in Iowa. Others will put more stock in New Hampshire or the next state in the batting order - South Carolina. For each of these states, the goal is to emerge as the kingmaker, the place where the issue mix and the media attention are just right to lift one candidate out of the pack and make him or her the sudden front runner.

Don Gonyea, NPR News.

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