Branstad says Iowa GOP welcomes all candidates

By the Associated Press | May 16, 2011 | 10:58 AM EDT

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad is urging Republican presidential candidates to campaign in the state's leadoff caucuses, saying there isn't a clear front-runner and everyone has a shot.

Branstad put out the call to candidates Monday at his weekly news conference. It came in response to a weekend commentary published in the New Hampshire Union Leader by a former New Hampshire Republican Party chairman, who argued the Iowa GOP has been marginalized by becoming so dominated by evangelicals.

Branstad told reporters his election is proof that candidates who focus on fiscal and economic issues can win in Iowa.

He says former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's decision not to seek the Republican nomination has made the race even more open. Huckabee won the caucuses in 2008 with strong backing from social conservatives.