2012 Republican hopefuls head to Iowa for final '10 campaign swing

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), for instance, plans campaign stops this week on behalf of Republican candidates in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, which just happen to host the first three contests for nominating a Republican presidential candidate.

But the perceived GOP front-runner for 2012 is hardly alone.

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Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, the chairman of the Republican Governors Association, will all make stops this week in Iowa, which hosts the first-in-the-nation caucuses in January 2012.

Barbour will also stop in New Hampshire, site of the first 2012 primary, on behalf of GOP gubernatorial candidate John Stephen, while many more 2012 contenders will appear in South Carolina. The Palmetto State, which hosts the second primary, will play host over the next week to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and Santorum.

Conspicuously absent? Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Her political action committee would not respond to a request for her itinerary for the next week.

A few Republicans thought to be prospective challengers to President Obama face reelection themselves next Tuesday and have more limited schedules. This group includes Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), along with Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.).

Thune and Pence do plan to campaign in their home states for candidates for House and the state legislature, according to spokesmen. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, another possible 2012 candidate, has a schedule filled largely with boilerplate official business next week.

Veteran GOP activist Grover Norquist said the next week is crucial for many of these possible contenders for the throne, since all will be judged on whether the candidates they are helping emerge as winners on Nov. 2.

Pawlenty will appear twice in Minnesota on behalf of Tom Emmer, the Republican looking to succeed him as governor. Emmer is stuck in a close race with Democrat Mark Dayton and Tom Horner of the Independence Party.

Pence is working for Indiana candidates running for the House and Senate, while Thune has worked hard on behalf of Kristi Noem, the GOP candidate looking to unseat Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin in South Dakota.

“If you can't do that [win those races], it's tough to make the case for a promotion,” said Norquist, who argues candidates for president should be judged by how they build the GOP.

“I think most of the candidates are working fairly seriously at trying to help elect other people,” he said.

Travel schedules don't capture the extent of the work Republican contenders for the 2012 crown have done for GOP House and Senate candidates this cycle. Many of the 2012 candidates have spent most of the summer and fall traveling and helping Republicans in state and federal contests.

But as they span the map on behalf of Republicans, their presence in key primary states during a crucial stage of the 2010 campaign takes on more significance, especially since the 2012 cycle begins informally the day after Election Day, on Nov. 3.

As soon as the midterm season ends, both parties will begin thinking about the 2012 race. Given Obama’s poll numbers, several Republican challengers are likely to think he makes an appealing target.

Obama is also working hard ahead of an election that will serve as a referendum on his first two years in office. He plans events the rest of this week in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Illinois and Ohio.

Gingrich and Palin benefit from national profiles where they can benefit any candidate, Norquist said.

Gingrich is appearing in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Florida and Georgia, in addition to South Carolina, in his “Jobs Here, Jobs Now” tour.

Palin has meanwhile announced more candidates she is supporting the past few weeks in notes on her Facebook page.