[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/02/02/art.palin1.gi.jpg caption="Newt Gingrich says Palin has the head start in Iowa."](CNN) - It's impossible to know how the Republican presidential field will stack up three years from now, yet former House Speaker Newt Gingrich says one candidate in particular may have a big head start.
Speaking at an event Monday sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, Gingrich said Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's continued popularity among the GOP's base would give the former vice presidential candidate an instant boost in Iowa - the state whose caucuses, dominated by rank-and-file conservatives, kick off the primary season.
"Palin starts in Iowa with a substantial base," said Gingrich, who also noted how important the Iowa caucuses have proven to be in presidential campaigns.
He said Palin is "very formidable," and suggested the Alaska governor spend time developing "fairly sophisticated positions" on a range of issues.
Still, Gingrich said it's entirely too early to handicap the 2012 GOP presidential race, since it remains unclear which Republicans will run, and what the state of the economy will be.
"Nobody knows today who is going to fill the vacuum," said Gingrich.
Gingrich, who weighed his own presidential run last cycle, didn't hint at whether he might be interested in mounting his own bid in 2012.