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Possible GOP Presidential Candidates Woo Iowa

The 2016 Iowa caucuses are a year away. On Saturday, a long list of potential candidates showed up at a political forum in Des Moines to begin courting the state's most conservative GOP activists.

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Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It felt like a presidential election here over the weekend in Iowa. The Iowa caucuses are more than a year away, and no candidates have formally declared they're running. But many potential contenders courted conservative activists set a forum in Des Moines. NPR's Don Gonyea was there.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: The setting was a historic, old theater downtown.

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REPRESENTATIVE STEVE KING: Do you believe that the next president of the United States is going to be speaking from this stage to you today?

GONYEA: That's the event's co-sponsor, Congressman Steve King. Over the next nine-plus hours, the program would include nearly a dozen possible presidential candidates, though only about half of those would qualify as real contenders. Let's start with a few for whom the word long shot is a generous description. Former Hewlett-Packard executive Carly Fiorina was here and got big cheers when she went after Hillary Clinton.

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CARLY FIORINA: Like Hillary Clinton, I, too, have traveled hundreds of thousands of miles around the globe. But unlike her, I've actually accomplished something.

(LAUGHTER)

GONYEA: Donald Trump was on the bill. Few believe he means it when he says he's thinking again about running. He called out Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush, neither of whom attended the event. Trump said Romney had his chance and choked. As for Bush...

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DONALD TRUMP: The last thing we need is another Bush.

GONYEA: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker boasted of taking on public employee unions. He spoke of death threats he received and of surviving a recall and winning re-election.

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GOVERNOR SCOTT WALKER: Well, I'm proud to tell you today that in Wisconsin, because of our reforms, we didn't just balance the budget. We now say in our schools, there's no more seniority or tenure. You can hire and fire whoever you want. You can pay based on performance.

(APPLAUSE)

GONYEA: A challenge for the GOP in national elections is that primaries pull the field of candidates to the right. You could feel that pull in Des Moines. But Rick Santorum, the former senator who won the Iowa caucuses in 2012 and who has solid conservative credentials, did say that the party needs to focus more on the concerns of working Americans.

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RICK SANTORUM: You hear Republicans say all the time as a rising tide lifts all boats. And that is true, unless your boat has a hole in it.

GONYEA: The response to that line was mostly silence. Not so for Senator Ted Cruz, who said every Republican candidate will tell you they are the most conservative. Talk is cheap, Cruz added.

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SENATOR TED CRUZ: If you say you oppose the president's unconstitutional executive amnesty, show me where you stood up and fought.

(APPLAUSE)

GONYEA: After eight hours, there were still some big names left to speak. Former Texas Governor Rick Perry, looking to run again after his gaffe-prone campaign of 2012, was heckled by immigration activists. He responded by praising the right to protest in America. Then came Chris Christie who answered those who would say he's not conservative enough for the GOP, that his New Jersey bombast won't play in the heartland. He said he was elected twice running as a pro-life candidate.

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GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE: The notion that our party must abandon our belief in the sanctity of life to be competitive in blue states is simply not true, and I am living proof of that fact.

(APPLAUSE)

GONYEA: The last to speak was former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who combined attacks on President Obama with some words of caution for Republicans.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GOVERNOR MIKE HUCKABEE: You cannot create a successful organization if you spend your time taking a grenade, pulling the pin, tossing it onto the chair of the people who are in your own tent.

(APPLAUSE)

HUCKABEE: We don't need to spend the next two years beating each other up in the conservative tent. We need to tell America what's right with this country.

GONYEA: Given the size of the field and the stakes, that's a long-shot proposition. Don Gonyea, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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