ABC News’ Michael Falcone reports:
Fresh off a testing-the-waters appearance at last weekend’s CPAC conference in Washington, Mississippi governor and potential 2012 Republican presidential candidate Haley Barbour has scheduled his first trip of the year to Iowa.
Barbour will headline a dinner organized by the Iowa GOP in the Quad Cities area in the eastern part of the state on Mar. 15.
Barbour’s appearance in Scott County next month will be the first in a series of events that the state’s Republican Party plans to hold over the next year. Iowa GOP officials indicated that they have reached out to other Republican leaders to participate in future events.
“The Iowa GOP is only as strong as our grassroots members and county party organizations,” Iowa GOP Chairman Matt Strawn said in a statement. “Building a statewide organization to compete with an Obama re-election machine will require unprecedented coordination and hard work by Iowa Republicans. By taking the state GOP out of Des Moines and to every corner of Iowa, we will be prepared for that fight.”
Barbour’s recent travel, which has included several stops in another key nominating state — South Carolina — is yet another sign of his interest in pursuing the Republican presidential nomination. He said he has not made up his mind about whether to enter the race, but plans to decide this spring.
Barbour, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee who is clearly laying the groundwork for a 2012 presidential campaign, delivered a pointed critique of President Barack Obama in a speech to conservative activists on Saturday. He called the Obama administration’s policies “reckless,” arguing that they have “brought America to a crossroads.”
"Just as ObamaCare will increase the cost of health care, the Obama energy policy is driving up the cost of energy," Barbour said. He also accused the president of trying to sound like Ronald Reagan.
“Reagan would recognize this ploy as just another play from the Democrat playbook," he said. "Fake up the middle, then run around left end.”
Despite his tough words, Barbour finished near the bottom of the CPAC straw poll, a non-scientific yet always-interesting indicator of conservative enthusiasm. He won just 1 percent of the vote, though potential rivals like Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, Mitch Daniels and Sarah Palin did not do much better — each one ended up in the low single digits.
But as Barbour inches closer to a possible presidential bid, he’s facing much greater scrutiny. A series of recent news stories have called into question his use of a state campaign plane for what appear to be political events as well as his past work as a lobbyist.