Photos of the colorful characters at the Iowa Freedom Summit

  • A patriotic conference attendee at the Freedom Summit, Jan. 24, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa speaks during the Freedom Summit, Jan. 24, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa speaks during the Freedom Summit, Jan. 24, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • Spectators at the Freedom Summit, Jan. 24, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa speaks during the Freedom Summit, Jan. 24, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • A supporter of Sen. Joni Ernst at the Freedom Summit, Jan. 24, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa speaks during the Freedom Summit, Jan. 24, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • Former Penn. Sen. Rick Santorum speaks at the Freedom Summit, Jan. 24, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, greets the crowd at the Freedom Summit, Jan. 24, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • Spectators watch U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas during the Freedom Summit, Jan. 24, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaking during the Freedom Summit, Jan. 24, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks during the Freedom Summit, Jan. 24, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • A patriotic spectator listening to presentations at the Freedom Summit, Jan. 24, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin speaks at the Freedom Summit, Jan. 24, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin speaks at the Freedom Summit, Jan. 24, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • Spectators at the Freedom Summit, Jan. 24, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks during the Freedom Summit, Jan. 24, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • Dr. Ben Carson speaks during the Freedom Summit, Jan. 24, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee during the Freedom Summit, Jan. 24, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • Mike Huckabee's book "God, Guns, Grits and Gravy"  on sale at the Freedom Summit, Jan. 24, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • A patriotic spectator applauds a speaker during a presentation at the Freedom Summit, Jan. 24, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa during the Freedom Summit, Jan. 24, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa with spectators at the Freedom Summit, Jan. 24, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • A fan greets Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa speaks during the Freedom Summit, Jan. 24, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • Donald Trump speaks during the Freedom Summit, Jan. 24, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • A pro card for Donald Trump sits on a bathroom sink and reads “The key to success is happiness through family” at the Freedom Summit on Jan. 24, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • Conference attendee at the Freedom Summit, Jan. 24, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • Former Penn. Sen. Rick Santorum speaks during the Freedom Summit, Jan. 24, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • Attendees at the Freedom Summit, Jan. 24, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks during the Freedom Summit, Jan. 24, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • Spectators at the Freedom Summit, Jan. 24, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaking at the Freedom Summit, Jan. 24, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • Demonstrator, Marco Malagon is removed from the venue by police officers after protesting during former Texas Gov. Rick Perry's speech at the Freedom Summit, Jan. 24, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • Demonstrator, Marco Malagon is cuffed by Des Moines police officers after being removed from the former Texas Gov. Rick Perry's speech at the Freedom Summit, Jan. 24, 2015, Iowa.
  • Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich takes a call during the Freedom Summit, Jan. 24, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaking at the Freedom Summit, Jan. 24, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • A spectator takes notes at the Freedom Summit, Jan. 24, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.

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DES MOINES, Iowa — An array of Republican presidential prospects made their opening pitch to conservative activists at the Iowa Freedom Summit on Saturday, setting the stage for a long campaign to win the state’s first-in-the-nation caucus. 

The event, organized by Iowa Congressman Steve King and conservative advocacy group Citizens United, was the highest profile gathering yet of likely 2016 candidates and its organizers billed it as an unofficial kickoff to the Republican primaries. Speakers included Chris Christie, Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, and Sarah Palin, among others. 

“Let the pandering begin!” Iowa radio host Jan Mickelson joked in the event’s opening speech. 

The event was as notable for its absences as for its attendees. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a vocal immigration reform advocate, and former presidential nominee Romney, who lost the Hispanic vote by a 71-27 margin in 2012, both declined to attend. So did Sen. Rand Paul, who has said he could support a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants, although he has previously joined King on the trail in Iowa. Sen. Marco Rubio, who co-sponsored the bipartisan Senate immigration bill that passed in 2013, also skipped the gathering.  Many Republican strategists are concerned that their party will erode its presidential viability in 2016 and beyond if they continue to alienate Latinos with inflammatory rhetoric and demands for increased deportations. 

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