WAUKEE, IOWA – On the trail in Iowa, Republicans vowed a revival of conservatism – and it’s not going to be more moderate.
“We are seeing an awakening across the state of Iowa and across this great nation,” presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz said.
“Only a conservative can unify the party and we do not have to change our beliefs,” former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina asserted.
Cruz, Fiorina, and seven other likely or official 2016 Republicans converged on a small town outside of Des Moines on Saturday evening, wooing hundreds of conservative voters at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition’s 15th annual candidate forum. Speaking for fifteen minutes each, Republicans worked to convince voters in the crucial early voting state that they had the ability – and the faith – to go all the way in 2016.
On the heels of a weeklong, 1200-mile, 15-city tour of Iowa, Fiorina got a raucous and warm reception, earning cheers, stomps, and laughs from the crowd as she worked her way through her background.
“Only in America is it possible to start as a secretary and end up as a CEO and maybe just maybe run for president,” Fiorina said. Her views on foreign policy – vowing to walk away from the Iranian nuclear talks – earned big cheers, too.
Candidate Sen. Rand Paul – whose Libertarian views sometimes set him to the left of the social conservatives Iowan evangelicals typically favor – touted his pro-life stance to the evangelical crowd. “I’m tired of us retreating on this issue and I’m going to push back,” he said.
Paul argued that the government is persecuting Christians with both foreign aid to countries that persecute Christians and policies that infringe on religious freedoms and vowed to change the way Washington works.
“Washington is so out of step,” he said.
Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio – in his first visit to Iowa since announcing his candidacy for president – delivered an impassioned speech about the American dream, appealing largely to voters on economic issues, jobs, and family values.
For others, it was a chance to fight for a second chance.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Sen. Rick Santorum are back following 2008 and 2012 Iowa caucus wins, respectively.
“It wasn’t because I was the last guy standing,” Santorum said of his 2012 win. “It was because I stood for something.”
Huckabee was particularly well received in his attempt to make a comeback eight years after his initial Iowa successes; he touted his recent headline-making remarks where he said the U.S. was moving toward “criminalization of Christianity,” almost bragging about the critical media coverage he’d received.
“Let me be clear tonight, I’m not backing off because what I’m saying is true. We’re criminalizing Christianity in this country,” he declared, speaking out against what he argued was an assault on religious freedom.
Others – like Cruz and Walker – worked to keep momentum and solidify more votes.
“Now more than ever before I believe America needs a commander-in-chief who tells it like it is,” Walker roared during the final address of the evening, criticizing the president for not directly tying Islam to terrorists like ISIS.
Govs. Bobby Jindal and Rick Perry – stalwart social conservatives – were at home with the evangelical audience and seemed comfortable touting their faith and policy views, in wide-ranging speeches that touched on everything from their own personal faith journeys to national security.
“Hillary said in New York that we need to have our religious beliefs changed,” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said. “I’m not changing my religious beliefs because they upset Hillary Clinton.”
Perry joked that his rural hometown made him feel at home in Iowa.
“It is good to be in Dallas,” he joked from Waukee, a town in a county that shares a name with Texas’ Capitol city. “Dallas County!”