Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., will make three stops in Iowa this week, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee will speak to a group of social conservatives there next Sunday. Former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., spoke at a New Hampshire political breakfast two days after the midterm elections.
But they don't count as 2012's earlybirds: Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and outgoing Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty are the most frequent travelers to the states that will cast the first votes in the next presidential contest.
So far, political tourism in Iowa and New Hampshire is not as intense as it was this time four years ago, according to senior Republicans in both states.
Still, possible Republican presidential candidates made the most out of competitive races in both states; many dropped in to help candidates and statewide parties, and they should have plenty of chits to call in. Both states saw significant GOP gains this cycle: In New Hampshire, Republicans gained both congressional seats, retained an open Senate seat, and won 124 seats in the state House, an all-time record. In Iowa, Republicans won the governorship for the first time in 12 years and took over the state Senate.
Among the prospective presidential candidates, Romney and Pawlenty have been the most active in both states so far.
They are the only two candidates with political action committees set up in New Hampshire, which they have used to funnel money into campaigns for statewide and local candidates.
As the New York Times reported on Saturday, both have used these and other state PACs to skirt federal campaign donation rules and collect large sums from potential donors. Romney has conservative billionaire David Koch in his corner, while Pawlenty has received $60,000 from Texas homebuilder Bob Perry, a large donor to American Crossroads and the man who funded the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attacks against Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., during his 2004 presidential campaign.
Romney has had the most visits to New Hampshire, which borders his home state of Massachusetts: He’s been in the Granite State five times in the past year and held a Boston fundraiser for the New Hampshire state party in August. Romney came in second in the 2008 New Hampshire primary, owns a lake house there, and retains a strong core of loyalists in the state. He’s paid less attention to Iowa, where he came in second in 2008 despite spending considerable time and resources there; he has visited just once in the past six months.
Pawlenty has been in New Hampshire four times, and has made regular visits to Iowa, which borders his home state. He has paid staff in both Iowa and New Hampshire, the only candidate who does so far. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour was in both states in his role as chairman of the Republican Governors’ Association, working for incoming Gov. Terry Branstad, R-Iowa, and New Hampshire Republican John Stephen, who nearly pulled out an upset against Democratic Gov. John Lynch.
Gingrich has stopped by New Hampshire twice and has paid staff there. His Iowa stops this week are part of a book tour to promote his new historical novel, Valley Forge.
Huckabee has not visited New Hampshire at all, and on November 21 he will make his first visit to Iowa since his close ally, social conservative Bob Vander Plaats, lost in the Republican gubernatorial primary. He'll be speaking to Vander Plaats’ Iowa Family Policy Center.
Former GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin has largely avoided New Hampshire, although she did endorse Republican Sen.-elect Kelly Ayotte on Facebook during her competitive primary. Palin has appeared in Iowa just twice. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., has not visited Iowa, and he has just begun to make phone calls to key players in New Hampshire.