President, GOP hopefuls descend on Iowa as pivotal straw poll draws near

With a key test of the GOP presidential field just over a month and a half away, candidates are descending on Iowa this week to sharpen their appeal to voters in the first caucus state.

Four announced or potential Republican candidates, including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R), are visiting the Hawkeye State this week — as is the man they are looking to defeat in 2012: President Obama.

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The president will make a speech at an Alcoa factory in Davenport, Iowa, on Tuesday to promote his agenda for the manufacturing sector and the economy.

Since there won’t be a competitive Democratic race in the state due to Obama’s presence at the top of the ticket, much of the attention in Iowa has been heaped on the myriad Republican presidential hopefuls vying for votes. But Obama will look to provide counter-programming to the GOP with his Iowa stop.

Palin will also create buzz regarding her presidential plans when she travels with her husband, Todd, to Pella, Iowa, on Tuesday to attend the premiere of a documentary film that lauds her political career, titled “The Undefeated.”

“We are very excited to visit historic Pella and its opera house and look forward to seeing the finished film for the first time with fellow Americans from the heartland,” Palin said in a statement released by the film’s producer, the Victory Film Group.

The 2008 vice presidential nominee, who has been opaque about her 2012 intentions, is reportedly going to meet with some Iowa Republican activists during her stop.

Looming over the state is the Ames Straw Poll — a major test of the GOP field that is only 46 days away. Republicans are beginning to compete with one another to seize momentum going into the event, which is seen as an early test of a candidate’s ability to organize.

Several of the 2012 hopefuls are centering their campaign strategy on the state, including Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who formally announced her presidential campaign in her hometown of Waterloo, Iowa, on Monday and referenced the state 14 times in her speech.

Her announcement was buoyed by her strong numbers in this weekend’s Des Moines Register poll of likely GOP caucus-goers, which showed her statistically tied atop the field with the front-runner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who has said he’s not participating in Ames.

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), the libertarian-leaning candidate who finished tied for fourth in the poll, also campaigned in the state capital of Des Moines on Monday. According to his campaign, Paul has averaged one appearance a week in the Hawkeye State since announcing his exploratory committee on April 26.

Paul also outbid other GOP candidates last week for a main plot of real estate at the Ames Straw Poll, hoping that a strong finish there could give him a shot at competing at next winter’s caucuses.

And former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) is hitting the airwaves this week with a radio and television ad campaign as he makes fundraising stops along the East Coast.

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Pawlenty, who isn’t as well-known as some of his peers, needs to make a strong showing in Iowa to catch on with Republican voters. Pawlenty finished fifth in the Register poll, but said Monday that he’s not worried about his current position in the polls.

“Iowans are wise folks — they make up their minds late in the process, and there’s a long road ahead,” he said on CBS’s “Early Show.”

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) also made a stop in Iowa last weekend amid speculation that his campaign is on the verge of implosion due to a mass exodus of key staff members over the past several weeks.