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Christie/Branstad for Tuesday

The Associated Press

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, right, and Iowa’s Republican candidate for governor, Terry Branstad, shake hands after Christie spoke at a fundraiser on Monday in West Des Moines.

SIOUX CITY -- Fresh off riding Tuesday's electoral wave, Northwest Iowa Republicans are looking ahead with relish to the 2012 presidential race.

The Iowa caucuses once again will hit leadoff in just 14 months, and candidates are already positioning themselves to seize the GOP nomination.

The midterm election delivered Republicans a new majority in the U.S. House and greatly increased the number of GOP members in state legislatures. That has some local political operatives believing Republicans should stick to their core beliefs when selecting a 2012 nominee.

Osceola County Repbulican Party Mary Beltman of Sibley figures the GOP will best maintain political momentum by advancing a nominee who won't compromise on key conservative principles.

"What we need is someone who is conservative, and who will not necessarily get along with (Democrats). We need someone who does dare to say it like it is," Beltman said.

The Journal surveyed 10 Republican Party county chairpersons for their top three picks to run in the 2012 presidential race in the quest to unseat President Barack Obama. There was a mixture of 2008 candidates and others new to the national stage.

U.S. Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin appear to be the early favorites in Iowa.

The Journal did a similar survey in 2008, and Mitt Romney led the GOP. He's slid further down the list, along with Mike Huckabee, who won the 2008 Iowa caucuses.

"(Huckabee and Romney) will have to 'git'r'done' and get on a plane and come to Iowa," Iowa State University political science professor Steffen Schmidt said in reviewing the survey outcome.

Meanwhile, a national poll released Wednesday by Politico showed Obama trailing both Huckabee and Romney, but leading over Palin. But this year's GOP field figures to be much larger than those three.

Crowded field

Monona County Republican Party Chairman Timothy Jensen of Mapleton said he envisions a field of perhaps a dozen candidates.  Jensen said he wants the candidate to be a person who will follow the stated GOP platform.

Dickinson County Chairman John Adams of Milford said the 2012 race will be interesting. Adams pointed to possibility of Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan or Florida Senator-elect Marco Rubio mounting candidacies.

"My favorite candidates would be the ones who have come on the stage since 2008," Adams said.

Emmet County Republican Party Chairwoman Deb Satern of Estherville said Republicans need to look hard at the candidates Democrats are most afraid of, including former governors Romney and Palin.

Belt of Osceola County said she is disappointed the national "Republican machine" seems to want to push Palin out of the ring. O'Brien County Republican Party Chairman Kelly O'Brien of Sanborn said Palin will get considerable support in Iowa if she runs.

"She is plainspoken, she isn't politically correct, I like that. She's just a hardcore conservative and she's not afraid to take on the establishment types, in her party or outside her party," O'Brien said.

Fresh faces appeal

Sioux County Republican Party Chairman Mark Lundberg of Orange City said a relative unknown like Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan would make a good presidential candidate, but said Iowans would embrace men who live adjacent to the state such as Thune of South Dakota and Pawlenty of Minnesota.

On Thursday, Christie said there was "zero chance" he would run for president. Clay County Republican Party Chairwoman Kristine Thiessen of Everly cited Christie for making tough choices to cut programs in New Jersey.

Schmidt said he was surprised Christie and Thune placed so highly with the area GOP chairpersons. Christie is top-of-mind in Iowa, probably like in no other state outside New Jersey, Schmidt said, because he campaigned in Iowa in October for Gov.-elect Terry Branstad.

"That's an interesting fact that you have uncovered, because it proves that if you are going to try to run for president in 2012 or any other year, you do have to come early and have to make an impression on Iowa GOP activists," Schmidt said.

Mark Leeds of Cherokee, the Cherokee County Republican Party Chairman, said five-term Iowa 5th District Congressman Steve King, fresh off a win over Democrat Matt Campbell of Manning, could be prodded to run for president.

"(King) believes in fiscal responsibility. He believes in the original Constitution, he believes in freedom from the government," Leeds said.

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