U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., speaks during the Iowa State Republican Convention, June 14, 2014, in Des Moines, Iowa.
Charlie Neibergall/AP

Potential 2016 GOP contenders descend on Iowa

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Iowa’s state GOP convention Saturday may have technically been about November’s midterm elections, but it was clear from the event’s speakers that 2016 wasn’t far from mind.

Craig Melvin, 6/14/14, 3:34 PM ET

Potential 2016 GOP candidates speak in Iowa

The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank, Roll Call’s Christina Bellantoni, and Republican strategist Rich Galen talk about speeches by potential 2016 presidential candidates at the Iowa GOP convention.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum – all potential presidential candidates – delivered sharp words for the Obama administration and other Democratic leaders, while offering their own prescriptions for the GOP’s future.

While none of the Republicans declared their candidacies, the speeches all had an air of pre-campaign grandeur, helped, undoubtedly, by being delivered in the Hawkeye State, which kicks off the presidential nominating process with its caucuses.

For Paul, putting a Republican back in the White House doesn’t mean changing the party’s core identity or becoming more inclusive, as an RNC-commissioned report suggested last year. Rather, he said the trick is to double down on the GOP’s values, while delivering them in more creative ways.

The Kentucky senator advocated a strategy that tailors the GOP’s platform to suit the audience’s interests. For example, when talking to “young people,” as he said, who “don’t have any money,” “don’t have any jobs,” “don’t care about regulations in taxes,” focus instead on privacy rights.

“Every one of them has a cell phone,” said Paul, “and they think frankly, it’s none of the government’s business what they do on their cell phones.”

Jindal similarly recommended keeping the party’s feet firmly planted on the right, particularly when it comes to religious liberty and reproductive freedom. Earlier this week, Jindal signed a measure requiring that abortion providers obtain admitting privileges at local hospitals – a demand expected to close several clinics.

“I just signed a couple of bills on Thursday helping to make sure that Louisiana continues to be the most pro-life state in the country,” said Jindal to a roomful of applause. He also took a swipe at the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that insurance companies include contraception in their health care plans. Hobby Lobby, a craft store chain, sued the U.S. government on the grounds that the provision placed a “substantial burden” on the owners’ “sincerely held” religious beliefs. The Supreme Court is set to rule on the case soon.

“Can you really believe that the Obama administration is now at the Supreme Court, threatening the Green family and Hobby Lobby with fines of up to $1.3 million a day, simply because they don’t want to use their money to buy abortifacients for their employees,” said Jindal. “I’m here to tell you one of the most important fights we face as a country is to stand up for our First Amendment religious liberty rights.”

Santorum seemed the most open to reworking the GOP’s message so as to embrace both workers and business owners. It’s a message he has promoted in recent public appearances, and it is in line with his new book, titled “Blue Collar Conservatives: Recommitting to an America That Works.”  

Santorum was the only one of the day’s speakers who had personally felt the sting of presidential defeat.

“We can win every businessman’s vote, and still lose elections by landslides,” he said. “We need workers if we’re going to win, and we need to start talking to workers if we’re going to win.”

But on the issue of same-sex marriage, Santorum hasn’t budged.

“Marriage is now by most people’s calibration, simply a romantic relationship between two people that the government affirms.” he said. “Well ladies and gentlemen, if that’s all marriage is, as far as I’m concerned, anybody should be able to get married. But that’s not what marriage is.”

Meanwhile, 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney held holding his annual GOP retreat this weekend in Utah, where additional potential 2016 contenders – including Paul, former Alabama Gov. Mike Huckabee and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie – spoke.

Bobby Jindal, Rand Paul and Rick Santorum

Potential 2016 GOP contenders descend on Iowa

Updated