Caucus night in Iowa is over 18 months away and no presidential candidates have officially declared, but itís still something of a surprise to Iowa politicians how little attention from potential 2012 candidates the state has been getting.
National Republicans are slowly starting to trickle into the state for campaign appearances. Most politicians likely to be considering a 2012 bid have made or will make appearances in the state this year, with Newt Gingrich and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty the most active to date. Gingrich hosted a candidate training session last week, and Pawlenty will return to the state at the end of July to campaign for local candidates in eastern Iowa. A few other potential candidates have visited Iowa as well, including rising Republican star Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.).
But all of these candidates have made only a handful of appearances, and so far only two candidates (former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Pawlenty) are operating state-based political action committees (PACs) this election cycle. Neither candidate has donated directly to the state Republican Party, with Romney donating only to gubernatorial candidate Terry Branstad, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and House candidate Brad Zaun so far this cycle.
By the end of July 2006, Romney had cut over 75 checks to state candidates and made around 20 donations to county Republican committees. John McCain posted over 20 candidate donations by the end of that month. On the Democratic side in 2006, Indiana Sen. Evan Bayhís PAC made 30 donations to state House candidates, and Virginia Sen. Mark Warnerís July donations of $25,000 to Chet Culverís gubernatorial campaign and $10,000 for an Iowa secretary of agriculture candidate dwarf any of this yearís Republican activity.
They don't mention Santorum, who's made four stops to Iowa in the past year, but the overall point is still correct. The early stage of the "invisible primary" (not just in Iowa, but everywhere) is more low key than last time. McCain and Romney waged particularly aggressive invisible primary campaigns in 2006, in which they were trying to get their own surrogates in power in the state party in Michigan for example. That level of pre-campaign is simply not being matched by anyone this time around.