The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

2016 is well underway in Iowa. Just look at this weekend.

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Blink and you might have missed the start of the 2016 presidential campaign in the first-in-the-nation caucus state.

It will ramp up in the next couple of days with several events featuring the likes of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Rick Santorum, and Emily's List, a group that works to elect women who support abortion rights, and has launched a campaign to elect a female president.

Emily's List will will bring its "Madam President" campaign to Des Moines on Friday. Group President Stephanie Schriock will be joined by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and other supporters in a town hall meeting that will be moderated by O. Kay Henderson of Radio Iowa.

Of course, any discussion about a female president in 2016 must necessarily begin and end with Hillary Clinton. The former secretary of state would be the instant front-runner for the Democratic nomination if she runs. The Emily's List campaign is one of many we'll-have-your-back signals Democratic groups are sending to Clinton in the hopes of prodding her to make a bid.

The 2016 race won't be far from the minds of Iowans on the Republican side, either. Rick Santorum, the 2012 presidential candidate who squeaked out a narrow victory over Mitt Romney in the Iowa caucuses last year, is in Iowa Thursday. He hasn't ruled out another bid for president.

But if he does make another run for the White House, Santorum's road to the nomination would probably be difficult. A promising crop of new potential Republican contenders has emerged, including Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, to name a few.

In other words, the potential 2016 field looks far more formidable than the 2012 field.

Another potential 2016 candidate who has made a splash in recent months will be in Iowa on Saturday, too. We're talking about Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), the fiery tea party freshman whose outspoken conservatism has quickly made him one of the country's most controversial political figures.

Cruz will make his visit to Iowa in as many months to attend a meeting hosted by the Family Leader, a conservative evangelical group led by Iowa activist Bob Vander Plaats. Cruz and his father will speak at the "Leadership Summit" in Ames on Saturday. So will Santorum.

Cruz has quickly become a love-him-or-hate-him figure in Washington, owing to his strict conservative positions. He appeared in South Carolina earlier this year and will travel to New Hampshire later this month. Both are, like Iowa, early presidential nominating states.

Also scheduled to speak at the Family Leader summit is Joe Miller, a tea party-backed conservative activist and attorney who defeated Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) in the 2010 Senate primary, only to lose to her write-in campaign in the general election. Miller has filed papers to run for the Senate once again in 2014.

Even Donald Trump will address the summit. The chances Trump will run for president are slim, but he likes to keep his name in the conversation.

As we've written on this blog time and again, no politician goes to Iowa by accident. It just doesn't happen. So as high-profile pols make the rounds in the Hawkeye State along the way to 2016, it's worth tuning into who is going and how often they are stopping by.