The Republicans all have good explanations for being there: Perry is supposed to be representing Romney, according to officials involved in the forum, and Santorum and Huckabee were invited as the 2008 and 2012 Iowa caucus victors.

But Iowa is Iowa, and a joint appearance in the land of the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses inevitably opens the door to the topic of 2016…

“We have the deepest and strongest bench I have ever seen,” Reed said, citing such GOP stars as Paul Ryan, Nikki Haley, Scott Walker, John Kasich, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Bob McDonnell and Rob Portman.

He added to the list: “Santorum, Huck and Perry, if they decide to go for the second bite at the apple — or at least that I have seen since 1980 when Reagan, Bush, Dole and Howard Baker ran,” Reed said. “And yet they are not yet ready to run the Derby either because [now] is not time or because they have to keep their head down while Romney is the nominee.”