From NBC's Domenico Montanaro
DES MOINES, Iowa -- It may be cold outside here (about 15 degrees colder than usual), but it feels like there's a bit of a political Spring in the air.
The big event this morning is Rep. Steve King's (R-IA) Conservative Principles Conference at the Downtown Marriott here. Five candidates considering bids for president are set to speak: Gov. Haley Barbour (R-MS), former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain, and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum was slated to speak, but he canceled yesterday because of a family emergency. Santorum was waiting for a connecting flight in Minneapolis on his way to Des Moines, when he decided to return home, a Santorum spokesperson told First Read.
The conference is notable also for who's not here: Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty (not to mention Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee).
For Romney, it may be a sign that he will not be competing as hard here as he did here in 2007 and 2008. Pawlenty will compete hard both here and in New Hampshire.
The Republican caucuses in Iowa are dominated by social conservatives, many of whom live in King's very conservative Western Iowa district. But, as we noted in First Thoughts Friday, Iowa is a swing state -- won by Barack Obama (D), George W. Bush (R), and Al Gore (D).
First Read is here and will update as news warrants. You can also follow along on Twitter: @DomenicoNBC
Here's the lineup:
10amET: Rep. Steve King kicks off the conference