A parade of potential GOP presidential candidates took the stage Saturday in Iowa, where 2016 already looms large for Republicans looking to reclaim the White House.
More than a year before Iowa hosts the nation’s first 2016 caucuses, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzThe Hill's 12:30 Report Cruz defends Trump's Taiwan call Ark., Texas senators put cheese dip vs. queso to the test MORE (Texas), Mike Huckabee, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) sought to rally the all-important Hawkeye State during speeches at the Family Leadership Summit in the town of Ames.
For the GOP heavyweights, a charged crowd of hundreds of Christian social conservatives at the third annual summit afforded the perfect opportunity to rally the Republican base. And the red meat flew:
“In Texas, we define gun control as hitting what you aim at,” quipped Cruz, the Lone Star State’s junior U.S. senator.
“The federal government needs to get out of our classrooms,” declared Jindal.
“Defend the border, Mr. President,” demanded Perry.
So far ahead of November 2016, the speakers didn’t seek to distinguish themselves from one another as much as they sought to burnish their conservative credentials.
In fact, the men repeatedly complimented their potential rivals, while bashing the policies enacted by Obama and congressional Democrats.
Santorum, whose 2012 bid for the GOP presidential nomination fell short, argued for cutting the federal gas tax, reducing the tax burden on manufacturers and easing restrictions on domestic energy production.
He said Obama’s regulatory and economic policies have stifled growth in the industries.
“We can compete against anybody, but it’s the government that’s made us uncompetitive,” he charged. “Let's make American workers competitive again.”
Perry used much of his speech to contrast the Obama administration’s handling of the growing immigration crisis at the southwest border with his own. At Perry’s direction, Texas has dispatched its National Guard troops to the border; Obama has thus far resisted calls to follow suit.
“The message to Washington and the message to the president of the United States is clear, if you will not secure the border of our country then the state of Texas will.”
Cruz, meanwhile, took aim at Obama’s foreign policy, suggesting he had not been forceful enough in the United States' tense relationship with Russia. He joked that he had identified an effective way to lose weight, the “Obama diet.”
“Every day, you just let [Russian President Vladimir] Putin eat your lunch,” he said.
Jindal focused a portion of his remarks on his opposition to “Common Core” educational standards that have been embraced by the Obama administration.
“We trust parents to be the first and best educators of our children,” he said of Louisiana’s policy.
Huckabee, speaking last, sought to capture the summit's religious theme, calling for a “spiritual transformation” in the United States.
“We are living in dangerous times,” the former Arkansas governor warned, drawing applause from the crowd on hand.
Organizers could not provide an attendance figure, but said 1,600 tickets to the event had been processed.
Not present at the summit were potential GOP presidential hopefuls Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), though the latter politician appeared via a recorded video focusing on his staunch pro-life stance.