During his fourth term as governor, Terry Branstad endorsed Republican Bob Dole’s bid for the White House in 1996. Branstad’s returning to office in early January for a fifth term, but he’s not sure whether he’ll endorse one of the G-O-P candidates for 2012.

‘With regard to the presidential candidates, a number of them have already been here,” Branstad said earlier this month on Iowa Public Television. “We certainly want to encourage them to come and spend a lot of time and I think I demonstrated how you can win in Iowa: go to every county, work very hard, listen to the people.” 

Branstad was governor during the 1988 presidential campaign when eight Republicans were competing in Iowa’s Caucuses, and Branstad remained neutral during that contest. So far this year over a dozen potential 2012 candidates have criss-crossed the state, but Branstad’s not ready to back one exclusively.

“At this point, I’m not even sure who the likely candidates are going to be and I’m going to stay neutral,” Branstad said on IPTV. “I’m not ruling out the possibility down the road that I might consider that.” 

Branstad seems to view his role as a sort of mentor for the new crop of candidates who’ll be competing here. “For the most part, I want to be welcoming. I want to encourage the candidates to come and spend the time, get to know the people of Iowa, answer their questions,” Branstad said. “We want to keep the Iowa Caucuses very vibrant.”

One potential candidate — former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin — is due in central Iowa early this evening to sign copies of her new book.  The event at a Borders book store in West Des Moines is scheduled to start at six p.m.  Palin, the Republican Party’s nominee for vice president in 2008, is scheduled to return to Iowa on December 2nd to sign copies of “America By Heart” at a Walmart in Spirit Lake.