Presidential race starts in Iowa at Republican Freedom Summit

by Austin Jacobs, special to the Simpsonian

The 2016 presidential race may have officially begun on Saturday as 1,500 Republicans flocked to Hoyt Sherman Place in Des Moines for the Iowa Freedom Summit. The Summit, put on by Citizens United and Congressman Steve King, hosted around 10 potential 2016 candidates and lasted around nine hours.

Among the list of speakers were some Republican politicians who have visited Iowa frequently recently including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Each had been in the state to help out 2014 candidates like Sen.Joni Ernst and Gov. Branstad.

There were also some fresh faces at Saturday’s event. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker made his first trip to Iowa since being considered a serious candidate for the White House in 2016. Carly Fiorina, former U.S. Senate candidate and former Hewlett-Packard CEO, also spoke at the event. This was her first time addressing a large crowd of Iowa Republicans and she impressed many of them. Dr. Ben Carson, who has a decent following in Iowa, also spoke at the Summit. Dr. Carson has been viewed as a candidate for quite some time.

“The freedom summit is important because it gathers together in the same place the more conservative elements of the Republican Party,” Kedron Bardwell, chair of the political science department at Simpson College, said. “At the end of the day, after everyone has made their speeches you’re going to have reactions by Iowa conservatives, leaders within the party and then some media folk about who performed best and which messages resonated the most.”

It may be hard to choose a real winner from the long lineup of speakers but Gov. Walker, Mrs. Fiorina, and Dr. Carson created the most buzz. Amy Frakes, senior at Simpson who attended the event on Saturday said, “I was most impressed by Ben Carson, not because he necessarily impressed me the most but because he exceeded the expectations I had for him.”

For many of the speakers this was their first time visiting Iowa, but don’t think you won’t see any of them again. Iowa holds the first-in-the-nation caucuses.

“I think this event highlighted the importance Iowa has in the presidential race,” Frakes said. “Many states are lucky just to have a few candidates stop by, but we have the entire presidential pool traveling all over our great state.”

Bardwell said he knows Gov. Branstad plans to host an agricultural focused summit and Bob Vander Plaats and his Christian conservative groups will host a summit as well.

“They’ll joke that Iowa doesn’t pick winners, but Iowa winnows the field,” Bardwell said. “There will be several of these (summits) by different organizations in the coming weeks and months. As those proceed you’ll get a better sense of what three or four candidates are appealing the most to the conservative base of the party.”

Each speaker hit on different topics that are popular in the U.S. right now. Sen. Cruz spoke the most about immigration and his efforts to reel in the President on his executive actions. Gov. Walker told the crowd about his recall fight in Wisconsin & his efforts to make the state a better one for his kids than what he had. Fiorina took a shot at former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the assumed 2016 Democrat nominee, by saying Fiorina had actually accomplished something though they have both flown hundreds of thousands of miles around the globe.

“Mrs. Clinton, flying is an activity, not an accomplishment,” she said.

Other areas of discussion were the threat of terrorists and ISIS, repealing Obamacare, cutting spending, and cutting taxes to help the middle class and small businesses.

Two potential candidates missing from the Iowa Freedom Summit were former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former presidential candidate Gov. Mitt Romney.

Bush has already announced that he is actively “taking a look at running” but hasn’t announced one way or another. Romney hasn’t announced either but has been talking to donors and supporters around the country. In their absence, many speakers bashed them to the crowd of Tea Party and Constitutional Republicans calling them too moderate or failures.

“I think it’s really too early to tell who the front runners are because name recognition for a lot of these candidates is so low that people don’t have enough information to rate them other than just knowing they’ve heard of them,” Bardwell said. “What these forums will do is get their name out in the public arena and people will learn more about their actual positions and they can make a judgment or not if that candidate fits their ideology.”