Political experts provide Iowa insight on this summer's evolving GOP presidential race

AMES, Iowa -- It appears as if the Republican presidential race is finally creating some buzz. Newt Gingrich is in, but Mike Huckabee and Donald Trump are out.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is being courted by Iowans to make a run. Meanwhile Sarah Palin remains quiet, keeping everyone guessing about her 2012 political intentions.

All the while, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann continue to wear a path as frequent visitors to their neighboring state.

So what does that all mean in the summer run-up to the GOP presidential debate in Iowa State University's Stephens Auditorium on Thursday, Aug. 11, and the Iowa Straw Poll in Hilton Coliseum two days later? Plenty, say ISU experts, who anticipate Iowa to be a hub of political activity this summer.

It already is. Gingrich made his first official Iowa campaign stop in Dubuque earlier this week. And Romney is scheduled to make his first official visit later this month.

Romney's Iowa race

University Professor of Political Science Steffen Schmidt sees Romney only making a token campaign effort in Iowa, despite the state's first in the nation caucuses. He sees the former Massachusetts governor strategically making New Hampshire his first serious political stand.

And at least one Iowa State colleague agrees.

"I think Romney will adopt what John McCain did in 2008 in Iowa," said Dianne Bystrom (left), director of Iowa State's Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics. "And so he'll run on a limited basis, largely because a majority of Iowa Republican activists identify themselves as social conservatives, among whom he is a less attractive candidate here."

Romney's Mormon roots may put him at odds with GOP social conservatives, according to Ben Crosby, an ISU assistant professor of English who has studied how Romney dealt with that issue during his 2008 "Faith in America" speech.

"It's [Mormonism] a transgressive religion, and conservatism does not abide transgression," said Crosby (right). "That's why evangelicals, who consider themselves to be the American orthodox style of Christianity, did not want to abide Romney [in 2008] -- at least in substantial numbers -- because he represents a transgression of the order."

So where does that leave Gingrich? "Playing hardball," according to Schmidt

"Gingrich is a hardball player," said Schmidt (left). "He may have recovered brilliantly from his significant bumps in the road. But he has been operating largely in first class reserved space where his audiences and followers live and they will forgive. Now he's asking moderate former Republicans, now listed as no-party or independents, to scrutinize him. I fear they will be less kind than the acolytes."

Bystrom sees Pawlenty taking the early Iowa lead. But she also believes Bachmann could be a factor among some Iowa Republicans too.

"I think Bachmann can do well with social conservatives," Bystrom said. "However, she may emerge as that Tea Party candidate, rather than the Republican nominee. As we saw in her response to the State of the Union address, Bachmann may be someone who's willing to run as a Tea Party candidate, which would then siphon off votes from the Republican Party in the general election."

Iowans for better choices

And some prominent Iowa Republicans aren't enamored with any of the choices thus far, facilitating their trip to New Jersey to meet with Gov. Christie. But Dave Peterson, an ISU associate professor of political science, sees that having more to do with money than politics.

"It says to me that they are concerned that the tepid interest so far is bad for the Iowa economy," said Peterson (right). "The caucus is usually a boon to the state and the race so far isn't helping the state very much.

"Christie or [Indiana Gov. Mitch] Daniels or any of these uncertain candidates would bring attention to the race," he continued. "But it isn't like Christie will immediately head to the front of the line. He has middling support in New Jersey. Polls there have his approval at around 50 percent. He makes good sound bites, but it isn't clear to me that he is what the Iowa Republicans are looking for."

And the GOP presidential race isn't clear yet, but it sure is heating up with Iowa's weather.