Photos of the colorful characters at the Iowa Freedom Summit
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.