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2012 hopefuls woo conservatives in Iowa

PELLA, Iowa - Six Republicans mulling 2012 presidential bids descended on Iowa yesterday to test their strength among social conservatives who hold the key to the state's lead-off caucuses.

Whether any of them manages to stand out from the crowd could hint at how a scattered and as-yet undeclared GOP field eventually shakes out. For the first time, several of the potential candidates were to share a stage, hoping to set themselves apart from each other.

The Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition planned to host former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, businessman Herman Cain, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer for a forum at a suburban Des Moines church.

Earlier in the day, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who sought the GOP nomination in 2008, spoke at three events scattered throughout the state and sponsored by The Family Leader.

Coalition president Steve Scheffler said with most of the candidates having similar views, activists are looking for someone who will back up his words with action.

"They are looking for a candidate who will carry out what they say after they're elected," Scheffler said. "We're looking for somebody with some backbone, who has a little iron in his spine."

Also yesterday, a top aide to billionaire real estate developer Donald Trump flew to Des Moines. Aide Michael Cohen planned to meet with Iowa Republican Chairman Matt Strawn and other key Republicans. He also was scheduled to meet with prominent Republican lawyer and former gubernatorial nominee Doug Gross.

No major candidates have officially entered the race for president. That's in marked contrast to four years ago, when most major candidates were clearly seeking the nomination by this time.

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