Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin speaks to guests at the Iowa Freedom Summit on January 24, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. She hinted at interest in running for the White House in 2016.(Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)At least nine potential Republican presidential contenders gathered Saturday at a conservative summit billed as the first cattle call of 2016 in the early state of Iowa. With no clear frontrunner for the GOP nomination, the forum was an early opportunity to test their message and personal appeal among the party faithful.”In a Republican primary every candidate is going to come in front of you and say I’m the most conservative guy that ever lived,” said contender Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, “You know what, talk is cheap…Look every candidate in the eye and say ‘Don’t talk, show me.'”The Iowa Freedom Summit in Des Moines was an inaugural event hosted by Rep. Steve King, a conservative known for his hard-line stances against illegal immigration, and the conservative non-profit group Citizens United. “Do you believe that the next president of the United States is going to be speaking to you today?” King asked attendees who erupted in applause. “As do I.”DESMOINESREGISTERIowa Freedom Summit: All the stories and videosFormer governor Jeb Bush of Florida, Gov. Bobby Jindal, R-La., Mitt Romney, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., did not attend Saturday’s event.Paul, Rubio and Cruz are scheduled to appear Sunday at another high-profile presidential forum in Palm Springs, Calif., hosted by the political network founded by billionaire GOP donors Charles and David Koch.”If you choose to not attend, you really don’t know how Iowans will take that,” Citizens United President David Bossie told The Des Moines Register.
Sarah Palin speaks at the Iowa Freedom Summit on Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015, at Hoyt Sherman Place in Des Moines, Iowa.
Charlie Litchfield/The RegisterThe Iowa forum highlighted the influence social conservatives play in the Iowa caucuses, which is fertile ground for speakers that included author Ben Carson, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, former senator Rick Santorum, Cruz, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin and former governor Mike Huckabee.PALIN: ‘READY FOR HILLARY’Palin, who was not previously thought to be considering a run, told The Washington Post on Friday that she is mulling a bid. “You can absolutely say that I am seriously interested,” Palin said.She offered a loosely organized speech that included well-received broadsides against the “left in Hollywood,” the media, radical Islam, Obama’s policies and Hillary Clinton. “It’s going to take more than a village to beat Hillary,” she said, to cheers. “I’m ready for Hillary. Are you coming?”Fueling speculation of her own possible bid, Palin said GOP should leave room for a female candidate in the primaries in order to end the “no girls allowed” view of the White House.Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. (Photo: Richard Ellis, Getty Images)Cruz blended tales of his faith, recalling his father’s conversion to Christianity, with a political call to arms. “We are looking to build a grassroots army,” he said, using the platform to ask supporters to sign up for cell phone alerts from his political camp. “Together, we need to reassemble the Reagan coalition,” he said, adding that the party has to expand its appeal to include evangelicals, libertarians, women, Reagan Democrats, and young people.Santorum said that Republicans have to move beyond criticizing Obama if they want to expand the party’s appeal. “Look for that message that can bring us together,” Santorum said, “Because as good as it feels to hear the bad stuff, as good as it feels to beat up on the other side for what they’ve done to this country—and it’s been substantial—that pointing the finger and blaming somebody doesn’t win us the arguments.”CHRISTIE: SECOND AMERICAN CENTURYThe summit was also an early test of the appeal of potential candidates like Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and former business executive Carly Fiorina, who may be viewed as more moderate GOP candidates among Iowa base voters because they hail from Blue States.Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks during the Freedom Summit on Jan. 24, 2015, in Des Moines. (Photo: Charlie Neibergall, AP)”Our values are consistent, and we are fighting together to make this a better country,” said Christie, noting that he’s been invited to speak in Iowa on at least five occasions. If he didn’t share their values, he said, “Why would you keep inviting me back?” He told the crowd that the next century “does not have to be a Chinese century,” it could be a “second American century.”Walker gave a well-received speech in which he recalled his battles with organized labor and death threats he and his family received. He also noted he’s been elected three times since 2010 — in a state that President Obama won twice. “I think that sends a powerful message to Republicans in Washington and around the country that if you’re not afraid to go big and go bold you can actually get results,” Walker said.He also touted efforts in Wisconsin to defund Planned Parenthood, enact stricter voter identification requirements and approve a concealed-carry law for gun owners.FIORINA BRINGS UP BENGHAZIFiorina focused heavily on her opposition to abortion rights and recalled a story about her mother-in-law, who gave birth to her husband despite warnings from doctors that her life was at risk. She also invoked her own successful battle against breast cancer, and the 2009 death of her step-daughter, Lori Ann, to drug addiction. Fiorina aimed direct attacks at Hillary Clinton, raising doubts about her accomplishments as Secretary of State and the administration’s response to the terrorist attack against the U.S. mission in Benghazi.DESMOINESREGISTER64 photos: Iowa Freedom Summit speeches and spectacleDonald Trump also joined the lineup. He said he is seriously considering a run and dismissed the chances Bush or Romney has to win the White House. “You can’t have Romney, he choked. You can’t have Bush. The last thing we need is another Bush,” he said.There is little ideological difference between the presidential contenders on major policy issues. The contenders pressed an immigration message in line with King’s, who was a leading voice against the Senate-passed comprehensive immigration overhaul. King is leading the effort to repeal the administration’s recent executive orders on immigration to delay deportations.”I think whoever wins in 2016 — I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a Republican — I think they should make it their goal to seal that (U.S.-Mexico) border within a year,” Carson told a cheering crowd.”You have to get rid of all the things that are drawing (the undocumented) in here,” he added, “Instead of getting a pass from the government, you should get a criminal activity on your record.”Huckabee won Iowa in 2008, and Santorum narrowly bested Romney in 2012 by 34 votes.USA TODAYJane Fonda’s Vietnam-era arrest bolsters GOP credentials