With Candidate Forum, Iowa's 2012 Race Unofficially Starts Today

Today marks the first major, multi-candidate forum in the 2012 presidential race, hosted by the socially conservative Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition. Five possible candidates will speak at the groups 11th annual Spring Kick-off Event, being held tonight at the Point of Grace Church in Waukee, Iowa:

  • Newt Gingrich, who launched a 2012 exploratory website last week
  • Tim Pawlenty, who declined to run for reelection in 2010 and has been raising money through his federal PAC since October 2009
  • Herman Cain, the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza, who spoke at CPAC and has been accruing tea party cachet
  • Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator who was suspended by Fox News (along with Gingrich) last week as he mulls a presidential bid
  • Buddy Roemer, the former governor of Louisiana who isn't regularly included in 2012 polls or seen as a top-tier contender, but who announced a presidential exploratory committee last week

Notable absences from the list: Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, and Donald Trump.

Other absences include former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson and strategist Fred Karger, who is running for the Republican ticket on a gay-rights platform. (Karger is aiming to become the nation's first serious, openly gay presidential candidate. He's already openly gay, it's the serious-candidate part he's working on). Karger sought entry to this forum, but Iowa Faith & Freedom Alliance leader Steve Scheffler shut him out, claiming Karger is a single-issue candidate, not a serious contender. (Scheffler also told Karger he has a problem with the "radical homosexuality community" ...)

The 2012 race is still a cold war, but with Gingrich's announcement of an exploratory committee last week, it's starting to heat up. Most candidates have been to Iowa and/or New Hampshire numerous times in the past year and a half; today, appearing on stage in candidate-forum context, they'll take one more step toward officialdom.

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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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