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Potential GOP candidates continue 2012 dance

Former Massachusetts Gov. MItt Romney works the tables like a presidential candidate, March 6, 2011 in Bartlett, N.H, where he was the keynote speaker at the Carroll County Republican Committee Lincoln Day Dinner.
AP Photo

Officially, no one is running for anything. But a host of potential candidates for the Republican presidential nomination are certainly sending strong signals, reports CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante.

On Monday night in Iowa, former House speaker New Gingrich, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Rep. Ron Paul will attend a presidential forum in the nation's first caucus state. And over the weekend, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney sounded every bit the candidate, telling a New Hampshire crowd that "Obamacare is bad law constitutionally, it's bad policy, it's bad for American families, and it's one reason why President Obama will be a one term president."

But when Romney was governor of Massachusetts, he pushed for a state health plan very similar to Mr. Obama's.

"This will be sort of a stone in the shoe for Romney, as he continues his presidential campaign," CBS News political analyst John Dickerson said on "The Early Show" Monday.

"Romney is trying to push back in two ways. One, he's arguing, 'Look, as a governor I'm supposed to do this kind of thing. This is what all 50 governors could do. What Obama did that was wrong is try and take a single solution and clamp that down on the country,'" Dickerson continued. "And then basically the second strategy is for Romney to change the subject, talk about the economy and say as a successful businessman he knows how to create jobs."

Other potential candidates are beginning the long march, hitting the early states and courting the voters. Gingrich's appearance in Iowa will be his eighth visit there since May 2010. It will be Pawlenty's twelfth day in the Hawkeye state since April 2010.

"Iowa is an example where voters want to see candidates up close and shake their hand and talk to them," Republican strategist Matt McDonald told CBS News. "They see it not only as an opportunity to gauge in the political process the way that everybody does but also see it as a responsibility to really test the candidates."

Dickerson said the Iowa forum will be geared toward social conservatives, who play an important role in the state - 60 percent of voters in the Republican's 2008 caucus identified themselves as born-again or evangelical.

"These candidates will be pitching, talking about issues like same-sex marriage and about abortion. And the other key question is, these voters want to know, are these social issues going to be something candidates talk about all over the country? Or only at events like this in states like Iowa?"

And there are still plenty of others - Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and the Obama administration's outgoing ambassador to China, former Utah Gov. John Huntsman.