Iowa GOP schedules debate before caucuses

The Iowa Republican Party scheduled a second debate for GOP presidential candidates the week before Iowa's caucuses next February.

The Iowa GOP said it will co-host a debate with Fox News set for early February before the caucuses. The party has already scheduled a debate in August as a precursor to the Ames Straw Poll, an early indicator of voters' preferences among candidates before the Feb. 6 Iowa caucuses.

"Iowa is once again taking center stage as Republican voters embrace their responsibility of starting the nomination process, and I am proud to bring an historic piece of that process to Siouxland,” state GOP Chairman Matt Strawn said in a statement. “No longer will Republicans in Northwest Iowa have to settle for watching high-profile caucus debates hosted hundreds of miles away, they will be active participants in the process.”

While many potential Republican presidential candidates have been reluctant to formally declare their candidacies so far, by August the 2012 field should largely be settled on the GOP side by the first debate. Moreover, participation in the debate could send signals about which candidates intend to participate in the Iowa caucuses.

The second debate, scheduled right before the caucuses, could be the last major opportunities for GOP candidates to showcase themselves before caucusgoers.

Updated 1:00 p.m.