The 2012 presidential campaign is beginning, whether the candidates are ready or not.

Republicans have been far more eager to criticize President Obama than to formally jump into the race and start jockeying for the right to challenge him. But their hesitation, or strategic patience, has done little to slow the early stages of the party’s nominating contest.

Things reached a preseason high Monday when six prospective Republican contenders – at least three of whom are viewed as long shots – were drawn to Iowa. An evening candidates’ forum was billed as the first such gathering of the year, filling a church auditorium with Republican activists and a crush of reporters so large that it seemed like election eve.

Read full text about GOP voters and 2012 candidates