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24 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

GOP’s Christie brings New Jersey candor to Iowa evangelicals.

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Chris Christie is no stranger to Iowa. At least 10 potential Republican presidential candidates will test their messages and their appeal Saturday before an audience of Iowa activists, but former Florida Gov.The 2016 presidential race is in its infancy, but the immigration politics that are sure to ripple through the contest will be display this weekend, when at least eight Republicans considering presidential campaigns appear at an event sponsored by GOP Rep. Republican audiences have cheered the New Jersey governor’s famously frank talk as he’s campaigned in the state — officially for others, not himself — during the past five years. As I talked to people working for the major GOP presidential candidacies, I asked who had signed up the organizers and super-volunteers crucial to turning out the vote in the first contest in the GOP nominating process.

Fill it to capacity, — that’s 1,200 audience members and another 200 credentialed media — bring in a lineup that includes almost 10 would-be, might-be, could-be Republican presidential hopefuls, and it’s looking like the 2016 campaign is officially underway. Still, Christie will venture into new Iowa territory on Saturday, speaking to an audience full of the kinds of strict social conservatives who have held sway in the state’s leadoff presidential caucuses for a generation. Saturday’s event in Des Moines, the Iowa Freedom Summit, is attracting the attention of both Republicans — as the unofficial kickoff to the nation’s first nominating contest — and of Democrats, who say they will be listening for any signs of pandering to anti-immigration forces within the party.

Taking a hard line against illegal immigration, and even new legal immigration, is a winning position among many Republican primary voters, but can come back to a haunt the winner who advances to the general election. The event is King’s attempt to have an outsized impact on the outcome of the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses, which will take place just one year from now. The reason will be on stage with Christie: Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry and a few others, each considering a presidential bid and carrying a more natural appeal among evangelical voters. He wants them to oppose any kind of deal with Democrats and the White House that would lead to the kind of immigration reform that many leaders at the Republican National Committee have suggested might help the party begin to cut into the huge gap that Democrats enjoy when it comes to the Latino vote.

King in 2011, he said that if he were president, he’d veto the Dream Act, legislation that would give young people brought to the U.S. as children legal status and a path to citizenship. The latest outcry came when he saw the announcement that one of the so called DREAMers — young people in this country illegally because they were brought here as children by their parents — would be seated with the first lady at the State of the Union. Neither will be at the forum, which is expected to draw nearly 100 reporters to Iowa for the first big event of the 2016 GOP campaign. “If I do run, I’ll be myself and we’ll see how Iowans like that,” Christie told reporters last week while visiting Iowa for Gov. The two have a relationship that dates to 2009, when King defended Christie before the House Judiciary Committee, where he was called to testify as a U.S. attorney while in the final weeks of his winning campaign for governor.

His big Iowa debut came the next year, when he headlined a fundraiser for Branstad that drew 800 people and netted $400,000 in the closing weeks of Branstad’s comeback campaign. Branstad called Christie’s speech that night, a list of budget battles with Democrats punctuated with humor and tough talk, the best he’d heard from a Republican since Ronald Reagan. The upside of starting early is obvious. “This isn’t like a normal election, where you convince people,” says Craig Robinson, the founder of the Iowa Republican website. “You have to convince them and keep them convinced.” That takes skill, and that skill is getting snapped up by other campaigns.

Rick Santorum (the winner of the 2012 Iowa caucuses), retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, former business executive Carly Fiorina, former Ambassador John Bolton, and Donald Trump. American Bridge 21st Century, a liberal group, will be there to record everything said by speakers. “Their desperate attempts to endear themselves to the conservative base will not come without consequences, namely because general election voters also happen to have eyes and ears,” the group said in a statement. Branstad said Thursday during an interview in office at the Iowa State Capitol. “But I want to be a good host and I want to welcome people to the state.” “It’s a complex issue and most Iowans want to welcome people who come here legally,” Mr. Branstad said. “They also agree that this administration has failed to secure our borders and they feel that some of the extraordinary actions the president has taken which are of questionable constitutionality are the right way to go.”

The Freedom Summit maybe the first of many Iowa events, but it’s a chance for all of these yet-to-declare presidential candidates to meet the state’s GOP activists and to make an impression. This came through clearly in a conversation with one operative who said of a talented volunteer, “He’s not with Bush, he’s with me.” Jeb Bush is setting the pace of the national GOP contest by launching a massive fundraising operation to intimidate his rivals.

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