Factbox: Key dates in presidential campaign

(Reuters) – President Barack Obama and a large field of potential Republican challengers are gearing up for the 2012 White House race.

Democrat Obama is expected to formally launch his re-election campaign in the next few weeks. His challengers have been gauging their political support for months, although former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is the only major Republican to take a formal step toward running so far.

The first scheduled Republican presidential debate, planned for May 2 at the Ronald Reagan library in California, was moved back to September to allow time for candidates to enter the race.

The tentative schedule of nominating contests, which traditionally opens in Iowa and New Hampshire, could change depending on whether other states such as Florida follow through with plans to jump ahead in the pecking order and hold early contests.

Officials in Iowa and New Hampshire have promised to adjust the dates of their contests if necessary to ensure they are first in the presidential nominating process.

Here is a look at some key dates in the presidential campaign calendar.

2011

MAY 5 – The first scheduled Republican debate, in South Carolina, a key early state in the nominating process

JUNE 7 – A Republican debate in New Hampshire

AUG 11 – A Republican debate in Iowa

AUG 13 – The Iowa Republican straw poll, a key early gauge of candidate strength

SEPT. 14 – Rescheduled Republican debate at Reagan library

SEPT 22-24 – Florida Republicans hold debate and a straw poll in Orlando

2012

FEB 6 – Iowa caucuses, first contest in presidential nominating race

FEB 14 – New Hampshire primary

FEB 28 – South Carolina primary

AUG 27-30 – Republican convention, Tampa, Florida

SEPT 3-6 – Democratic convention, Charlotte, North Carolina

NOV 6 – Election Day

(Writing by John Whitesides in Washington; Editing by Deborah Charles)

Factbox: Key dates in presidential campaign