By Kay Henderson
DES MOINES (Reuters) - A top aide to celebrity real estate tycoon Donald Trump visited Iowa on Monday to gauge interest in the idea of a Trump bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.
The Trump trial balloon came as five potential Republican candidates were gathering to speak to the conservative Faith and Freedom Coalition in Waukee, Iowa, in what has been a slow start to the Republican battle to determine who will oppose President Barack Obama, a Democrat.
Those five were former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer and former Godfathers Pizza CEO Herman Cain.
Trump, a billionaire and the celebrity star of NBC's "The Apprentice," has been flirting with a presidential race, speaking to a conservatives' conference in Washington last month. But many Republicans doubt he is serious.
Michael Cohen, executive vice president and special counsel to Trump's company, flew aboard one of Trump's two planes to Des Moines.
Besides meeting with Iowa Republicans, he was to meet with two people in Newton, Iowa, who got business advice from Trump after he saw a CBS "60 Minutes" profile of the city's economic woes. Cohen also was attending the Waukee event.
"We do understand that Iowa is the first stop if anyone is interested in the presidential election. Certainly ... we are very anxious to learn about Iowa and be able to report back to Mr. Trump when he hopefully decides to run in June," Cohen said.
Cohen insisted Trump was not involved in the planning of his trip. He said he came in his capacity as co-creator of the website ShouldTrumpRun.com.
"I took a personal day today so my hope is that when I ultimately finish this I can go back and I can gauge the feeling that I have from Iowa and for Mr. Trump," Cohen told reporters, who asked if Cohen had any conversation with Trump about the trip.
Iowa holds the country's first contest next January to decide the Republican nominee and there is no obvious front-runner. Cohen argued Trump's "business acumen" and negotiating skills make him a plausible candidate.
"I mean, Mr. Trump is one of the wealthiest men in the country. He's also one of the most well-known individuals on the planet," Cohen said. "He's made a tremendous fortune for himself and what would be fabulous is to see him put that ability and his talents to work for the rest of us."
(Writing by Steve Holland; Editing by Vicki Allen)