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Rahm Emanuel in Iowa Saturday to plug Obama record

WASHINGTON–Mayor Rahm Emanuel delivers his first major speech for President Barack Obama Saturday in Des Moines, drawing the spotlight away from Republicans who have been dominating the 2012 presidential news from Iowa.

“We could not be more thrilled,” Iowa Democratic Party Chair Sue Dvorsky told me.

I’m told by an Obama team member that a good portion of Emanuel’s speech will be personal testimony about working with Obama. It will “focus on his leadership and his character coming from someone who worked by his side for two years.”

Iowa and New Hampshire are the first votes in the nominating process and each are important states for Obama in 2012. Emanuel’s high profile Iowa visit on Saturday will be bookended by Obama’s trip to Manchester, NH on Tuesday to talk about his jobs legislation.

Emanuel is the headliner for the Iowa Democratic Party’s 2011 Jefferson Jackson Dinner, a make-or-break showcase for Democratic presidential contenders in years when there is a contest–as there was in 2007, when Obama’s speech was seen as pivotal turning point leading to his victory over chief rival Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The Obama re-election team wanted Emanuel to speak at the dinner and Dvorsky–raised in the Chicago suburb of Barrington–said Iowa Democrats are excited to hear from Emanuel, Obama’s former White House chief of staff: “He is is a powerhouse, a person who excites a passionate response,” she said.

The event is sold-out–1,500 are expected to attend, with tickets ranging from $100 to $10,000 which includes a VIP reception with Emanuel. Emanuel has spoken at fund-raisers for Obama–but nothing of this magnitude for his former boss.

The Jan. 3 Iowa caucus is the first vote in the presidential nominating cycle; the main eight GOP rivals have been in Iowa for months battling for the nomination.

Since Obama has no primary fight, Democrats in swing state Iowa will use the Emanuel event to help organize Obama’s general election campaign–signing up volunteers, for example. The Obama 2012 organization, headquartered in Chicago, already has eight Iowa offices.

I’m also told that Emanuel’s remarks are being crafted by a speech-writing team including David Axelrod, Obama’s chief strategist–who also served with Emanuel in the White House and who has worked with him for decades.

The Emanuel speech will be shown live on C-Span and is expected to get heavy coverage from the national political press. As for whether this means Emanuel is interested in a White House run for himself, he told Chicago reporters last September, “No, never, not. Not interested.”