Mitt Romney only lost his presidential bid on Tuesday night. So when does the courting of voters for the Republican 2016 nomination begin? How about next week?
Florida Senator Marco Rubio is heading to the first caucus state of Iowa on Nov. 17 to headline an annual campaign fundraising birthday party for Iowa governor Terry Branstad.
The governor’s spokesperson, Tim Albrecht, a caucus expert himself, told ABC News that Branstad invited Rubio “a couple of months ago” and is “excited he accepted.”
“Sen. Rubio is a star within our party,” Albrecht said. “We were excited Sen. Rubio accepted, and regardless of what happened on Tuesday he was going to come, and it guarantees a successful fundraiser.”
And as for the assumption that this means Rubio is a sure thing for a 2016 presidential bid? Albrecht said the speculation is one of the bonuses of living in the Hawkeye state and he knows Rubio will be a “major draw.”
“I’m sure people will speculate regardless, and if Gov. Romney had won people would speculate about 2020,” Albrecht said. “When you live in Iowa you’re under a microscope.”
Of course the speculation can’t hurt Rubio, or Iowa’s hopes for remaining the first state where voters get to pick a president. Albrecht said they were of course “hoping the (caucus process) would start 6 years from now.”
“But, we expect Iowa to be first once again and Gov. Branstad welcomes any candidates that might be looking ahead to the Iowa caucuses,” Albrecht said.
Five of the 2012 caucus hopefuls headed to the party last year, held near Des Moines at a theme park in Altoona, Iowa called Adventureland. Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman didn’t make it, but Branstad praised Rick Santorum at the time for working the hardest:
“I give Rick Santorum credit. He’s already been to all 99 counties,” Branstad said last November.
He didn’t end up officially endorsing anyone, but Santorum did go on to win the caucuses, beating Romney by a tiny margin.
This is not Rubio’s first trip to one of the early voting states. He headlined the South Carolina GOP’s Silver Elephant Dinner in May and stumped for Romney in many of the crucial early states in addition to his home state of Florida, including New Hampshire and Nevada. Rubio was actually supposed to campaign for Romney in Iowa as well in July, but his plane was forced to make an emergency landing en route from an event in Las Vegas forcing to stop in New Mexico.
ABC’s Arlette Saenz contributed to this report.