Officials also say that as of this week, all but one of the top-tier GOP hopefuls have indicated they plan to participate in the Ames Straw Poll.
Iowa Republican Party officials met Thursday with representatives from campaigns planning to participate in the straw poll. According to a well-placed source, two representatives from each of the following camps were present: Pawlenty, Romney, former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.), businessman Herman Cain and Reps. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) and Ron Paul (Texas).
No one from former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman’s team was present at the meeting — an indication that the former ambassador to China might skip over the caucus state.
That’s not a good idea, Branstad said.
“If he wants to run for president, he should. He’s not really well-known here,” he said. “Those people who have ignored Iowa ... I’m thinking of Rudy Giuliani last time. ... He thought he could wait until Florida, and by that time it was over.”
But Branstad pointed out that he’s seen the most activity from Pawlenty and Santorum — although if Bachmann officially announces her candidacy, he expects her to visit often.
That could be a problem for Pawlenty, who is seeking to follow in Huckabee’s footsteps as a caucus winner. Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister, was victorious in the Iowa caucuses in part because he appealed to conservative Christian voters.
“Huckabee had a real connection,” said Steve Grubbs, a former Iowa Republican Party chairman. “There’s nothing in Pawlenty’s background, record or speeches that would alienate him from the evangelicals. But, again, it remains to be seen whether he would connect.”
Pawlenty’s campaign is fairly traditional for the Iowa caucuses, according to several local Republicans, who say that he has hired several field staffers dispersed throughout the state and brought on many paid consultants. Three days before Pawlenty’s planned announcement, his campaign sent out a list of four new senior advisers it had brought on board — on top of the several staffers it already has in the state.
In fact, Pawlenty’s team is similar to the formal operation that both Romney and McCain had in place at this point in the 2008 cycle — before the Arizona Senator’s campaign bottomed out and he was forced to take the majority of his staff off the payroll.
“The benefit Pawlenty has is that he can come in and fill the Romney void. The fact that he’s going big, I think it’s a smart move,” Laudner said. “From what I can see, they’re the only ones really going at it. This is the perfect time to do it after Huckabee not getting in and the whole Trump fiasco. ... Now is the time to strike.”
And while Pawlenty’s plan might be the most traditional strategic path to the nomination, it has certainly proved to be successful in the past. President Barack Obama implemented a similar strategy in 2008, focusing heavily on the Iowa caucuses — a win that solidified his position as Hillary Rodham Clinton’s chief opponent for the nomination.
This article updates the print version to include information about Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels’ decision not to run for president in 2012.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.