GOP hopefuls talk trade, immigration and more in Iowa

  • Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, signs autographs during the Iowa Agriculture Summit, Saturday, March 7, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks during the Iowa Agriculture Summit, Saturday, March 7, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks to the media during the Iowa Agriculture Summit, Saturday, March 7, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad at the Iowa Agriculture Summit, Saturday, March 7, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • Fans greet Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, during the Iowa Agriculture Summit, Saturday, March 7, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • Agriculture entrepreneur, major Republican donor and host of the Iowa Agriculture Summit, Bruce Rastetter on Saturday March 7, 2015.
  • Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush arrives at the Iowa Agriculture Summit, Saturday, March 7, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • PETA protesters outside the Iowa Agriculture Summit, Saturday, March 7, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa with a caricature of host Bruce Rastetter, during the Iowa Agriculture Summit, Saturday, March 7, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • PETA protesters outside the Iowa Agriculture Summit, Saturday, March 7, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks with host of the Iowa Agriculture Summit, Bruce Rastetter on Saturday March 7, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, during the Iowa Agriculture Summit, Saturday, March 7, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks during the Iowa Agriculture Summit, Saturday, March 7, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks during the Iowa Agriculture Summit, Saturday, March 7, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks during the Iowa Agriculture Summit, Saturday, March 7, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • Former Penn. Sen. Rick Santorum has his picture taken with a fan during the Iowa Agriculture Summit, Saturday, March 7, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.

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Major Republican 2016 hopefuls took the stage in Des Moines, Iowa, on Saturday for the Iowa Agricultural Summit, a showcase political event in a state crucial to presidential campaigns. The star-studded roster included Sens. Ted Cruz and Joni Ernst, Govs. Chris Christie and Scott Walker, as well as former Govs. Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee and Rick Perry.

Iowa entrepreneur Bruce Rastetter hosted the event and asked the politicians for their views on trade, renewable energy, agriculture, immigration, and the recent decision by President Barack Obama to ease diplomatic relations with Cuba. 

New Jersey Gov. Christie, who has been battling declining popularity and withering criticism from the right, faced down a heckler in the audience with laughter and a reference to his well-known brash handling of such detractors. “I’m glad to see that New Jersey has come to Iowa. How great is that? Good to have you here,” he joked, before adding, “My people follow me everywhere … It’s fabulous.”

WATCH: Christie confronts heckler in Iowa

While Democrats were invited to the event, the guest speakers interviewed by Rastetter were heavily, if not entirely, Republican. Many lobbed criticism at President Barack Obama and the White House on everything from immigration to energy independence. 

Huckabee, in particular, singled out Obama’s “ridiculously bad deal with the Iranians,” referring to the president’s ongoing negotiations to curb nuclear arms in the country. He said that if America instead focused on its ability to “feed itself, fuel itself, fight for itself” then Iran wouldn’t be in “the catbird seat.”

Former Texas Gov. Perry emphasized his background growing up on a “dry land cotton farm,” where he didn’t have running water until the age of 6. He also contrasted his experience handling the Ebola epidemic, which arrived in America via the first diagnosed patient in Dallas, with Obama’s appointment of a “political spokesperson” as the country’s Ebola czar. Perry pointed out that he immediately chose a well-qualified physician to head efforts in his state. 

On the topic of immigration, Sen. Cruz came out strongly against the president’s recent executive action. “The problem is Barack Obama and the Senate Democrats have been focused instead on partisan politics instead of solving the problem,” he said, suggesting that Obama did not need to resort to executive powers to push through immigration reform. “When he had a Democratic House, a Democratic super majority, when he could pass anything he wanted, and he did nothing, zero, on immigration.”

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