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Govs Eye White House, Meet With Iowans

Potential presidential candidates attending the annual National Governors Association meeting are making time to get better acquainted with some of the prominent residents of this early decision state.

High atop the list of those to meet was former Republican Gov. Terry Branstad (search).

"I do know Iowa," Branstad said. "I've run some successful campaigns here, and I'm willing to give advice and counsel."

Branstad had dinner Friday night with Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (search). On Saturday, he lunched with New York Gov. George Pataki (search).

Both Republicans are considered possible presidential candidates in 2008 and were eager to learn a little about Iowa from one of the state's most successful politicians.

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner (search), a Democrat, met with Gordon Fischer, a Des Moines lawyer and former chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party.

"He said he was definitely exploring it and hoped to come back to Iowa a lot more," Fischer said.

In the world of presidential politics, a potential candidate sometimes says it all simply by showing up in the state where precinct caucuses launch the White House nominating season.

"When you come to Iowa twice in a month, it's pretty obvious," Fischer said.

Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack (search) was taking steps of his own, bashing fellow Democrats for not offering a sharp enough alternative to President Bush and congressional Republicans. He said he'll help gubernatorial candidates craft a "values-oriented message," and conceded that could raise his national profile if he succeeds.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (search) arrived late but made time to speak to a group of trial lawyers, a key Democratic constituency.

"I'm going to run for re-election and then take a look at where we are after my election," Richardson said. "I'm not ruling it in, I'm not ruling it out."

Other quiet meetings took place between governors and well-known party activists. Pataki also found time to chat with Doug Gross and David Roederer, both former chief of staffs to Branstad. Gross was the GOP gubernatorial nominee in 2002 and state finance director for President Bush in 2004. Roederer was the president's Iowa campaign manager.

GOP state House Speaker Chris Rants (search) had a sit-down with Massachusetts' Romney. "I'm impressed with the guy," Rants said. "He has got an interesting story to tell. We talked a lot about the lie of the land here in Iowa."

It was far from their first meeting.

Romney already has built ties to Iowa legislative leaders. He gave $50,000 to Republican legislative campaign efforts in the last election, including $4,000 to Rants.

While it may be a bit early to begin talking overtly about the next presidential election, there's a perfect excuse for many to become involved in Iowa politics. Romney is the incoming chairman of the Republican Governors Association, and there are 36 gubernatorial elections next year, including Iowa.

"There are a lot of states where governors aren't running again and there's a lot of states to defend. Iowa is one of the best prospects for a pickup," Branstad said.

The intensity of the emerging presidential campaign is higher than many previous elections. For the first time since 1952, there won't be either a sitting president or a sitting vice president on the ballot.