DES MOINES (Reuters) - Five possible Republican White House hopefuls including Newt Gingrich and Tim Pawlenty courted conservative voters on Monday in Iowa, the state that holds a critical early contest on the road to the party’s 2012 U.S. presidential nomination.
Former House of Representatives Speaker Gingrich, former Minnesota Governor Pawlenty, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer and former Godfathers Pizza CEO Herman Cain took turns bashing Democratic President Barack Obama.
Republicans aim to deny Obama a second term as president.
The Iowa caucuses, an important early prize in the race for the Republican nomination, are scheduled for February 6, 2012. No leading Republican, including the five who appeared at the event in Iowa, has yet formally launched a candidacy.
Meanwhile, a top aide to real estate tycoon Donald Trump visited Iowa on Monday to gauge interest in the idea of a Trump bid for the Republican presidential nomination.
Trump, a billionaire and the celebrity star of NBC’s “The Apprentice,” has been flirting with a presidential run, speaking to a conference of conservatives in Washington last month. Many Republicans doubt he is serious.
Iowa’s Republican Governor, Terry Branstad welcomed the five prospective candidates at the event at a church in Waukee, west of Des Moines, to what he called “the first significant event of the caucus season.”
Branstad said the crowd gathered at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition event were people who “show up at caucuses” and were valuable to a presidential campaign.
“I’m not yet a candidate,” Gingrich said. “Every person that’s going to speak tonight is a friend of mine. ... It’s going to take all of us to defeat the left.”
Pawlenty stressed his opposition to abortion and gay marriage. “We need leaders that cannot just talk the talk, but walk the walk,” he said.
Santorum joked that he has been called an “ultra-conservative” Republican so often that “my kids used to think my first name was ‘Ultra.’” The audience laughed and clapped.
Michael Cohen, executive vice president and special counsel to Trump’s company, met with Iowa Republicans.
“We do understand that Iowa is the first stop if anyone is interested in the presidential election. Certainly ... we are very anxious to learn about Iowa and be able to report back to Mr. Trump when he hopefully decides to run in June,” Cohen said.
Writing by JoAnne Allen; Editing by Will Dunham