Iowa will remain the first nominating contest in the 2012 presidential campaign, the state’s GOP chairman told reporters Thursday. And former House Speaker Newt Gingrich could have an edge over his potential rivals if he decides to run.

Florida, which hosts the GOP convention next year, has scheduled its presidential primary for January 2012 — ahead of Iowa, the traditional lead off state. National party officials want it pushed back behind the caucuses that are tentatively set to be held in February 2012.

Iowa Chairman Matt Strawn said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus held a conference call Monday and he was "very direct in laying out what the consequences were to any states that aren’t in compliance."

"I would think those sanctions would be even more acute if the convention happened to be in your home state," Strawn said. "At the end of the day, I don't think that there's any question when it comes to the order of the states, it will be Iowa; it will be New Hampshire; it will be South Carolina."

Strawn said he was "optimistic" the Iowa caucuses would remain in February, but he said that could change depending on what Florida decides to do.

Several GOP candidates, including the eventual nominee Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), bypassed Iowa in 2008, but the chairman said that wouldn’t happen in 2012.

Strawn said he expects the full field of Republican candidates to compete in Iowa — at least to some degree. "I don't know why you would want to take yourself out of the national conversation by not participating in Iowa," he said.

Even a figure as well known as Sarah Palin bypasses the state at her peril, he said. "History would suggest that’s a very risky strategy related to the Iowa caucuses."

And when it comes to the general election, Strawn added, "I don’t think you can write off Iowa's electoral votes if you’re the Republican nominee." But it could be more difficult to win Iowa for a Republican in the general if he didn't compete in the caucuses. "One thing that Iowans don't want to be is taken for granted," Strawn said.

Strawn said the level of engagement with candidates had "picked up dramatically" in recent weeks, at least at "the subterranean level."

Gingrich is expected to give some signal about his intentions Thursday, and Strawn said he could do well in Iowa.

"He was one of the more active national Republicans in Iowa helping us in 2010," Strawn said. "I think it starts the conversation."

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) also has an edge because of his proximity to the state. "Geographic proximity plays a role because retail politics are so crucial to success in the Iowa caucuses," he said.