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2016 race kicks off with long day of auditions in Iowa

The 2016 Republican presidential race in Iowa got its unofficial start Saturday with a marathon of speeches, giving close to a dozen potential candidates a chance to introduce (or re-introduce) themselves to a core group of caucus-goers roughly one year before the contest.

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By Ashley Killough, CNNUpdated 1:20 PM ET, Sun January 25, 2015/* jshint browser: true, maxparams: 8, node: false *//* globals jQuery, CNN */'use strict';jQuery(function () {var configObj = {thumb: 'none',video: 'tv/2015/01/25/sotu-smerconish-peter-hamby-republican-cattle-call-in-iowa.cnn',width: '100%',height: '100%',section: 'domestic',profile: 'expansion',network: 'cnn',markupId: 'large-media_0',adsection: 'const-article-pagetop',autostart: 'true',frameWidth: '100%',frameHeight: '100%'},currentVideoCollection = [],moveToNextTimeout,callbackObj,videoEndSlateImpl;videoEndSlateImpl = new CNN.VideoEndSlate('large-media_0');/*** Navigates to the video leaf page of the next video in the current collection, if available.* @param currentVideoId The video that is currently playing* @param containerId The parent container Id of the video element*/function navigateToNextVideo(currentVideoId, containerId) {var nextPlay,vidObj,i,$endSlate,nextVideoPlayTimeout = 1500;if 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strong receptions from the audienceDES MOINES, Iowa (CNN)The 2016 Republican presidential race in Iowa got its unofficial start Saturday with a marathon of speeches, giving close to a dozen potential candidates a chance to introduce (or re-introduce) themselves to a core group of caucus-goers roughly one year before the contest.Immigration and Islamic extremism took front and center as the White House hopefuls sought to test-drive their stump speechesOn style, it was Wisconsin GovScott Walker and Texas SenTed Cruz who saw strong receptions from the audience, though support for a wide number of candidates was expressed in the hallways after the event.New Jersey GovChris Christie also sought to establish a deeper bond with IowaThe Hawkeye State receives outsized attention in presidential years thanks to its first-in-the-nation status during the primary seasonMarathon timeFor the 10-hour day of back-to-back speeches, "the candidates" -- as they were called -- joined other high-profile Republicans at Hoyt Sherman Place, an old, intricate theater built in 1877 that also became the first public art museum in Des Moines.Billed as the Iowa Freedom Summit, the event was co-hosted by Citizens United and RepSteve King, a revered lawmaker who represents the northwestern part of the state and has considerable clout among the more social conservative and Christian right faction of the partyIt was no secret that it was considered a cattle call for the presidential raceFormer Arkansas GovMike Huckabee, for example, said that the reason he ended his Fox News show was for a bigger goal he has in mind"It wasn't just so I can go deer hunting every weekend, I can assure you that," he saidOthers were more blatant"I am a potential presidential candidate, yes I am," former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina told CNNEven Palin angled to get in on some of the action, teasing ahead of her appearance Saturday that she was now seriously considering a runAnd real estate titan Donald Trump told reporters Saturday that he'll make his decision before June"I'm the one person who can make this country great again, that's all I know," he told reporters Saturday"Nobody else can."Palin, in her remarks, was less forwardTicking through a somewhat dizzying and hard-to-follow speech, Palin suggested that the country is ready for a woman leader -- just not Hillary Clinton"Hey Iowa, can anyone stop Hillary?" she said, prompting the audience to cheer"To borrow a phrase, yes we can!"The class of 2016The speakers, who were typically allotted 20 minutes, used a bulk of their speeches to share their own personal upbringingsBen Carson and Christie talked about their strict but sharp mothers, while Wisconsin GovScott Walker and Texas SenTed Cruz talked about having pastors as fathers.Other more well-known names in Iowa — like former Pennsylvania SenRick Santorum who won the state's caucuses in 2012 and Huckabee, who won in 2008 — tried to remind Iowans why they picked them in the first place, dipping into their personalities but also focusing on the issuesGiven King's firebrand credentials as an outspoken opponent of illegal immigration, it was no surprise that problems at the border became a focal point in much of the speeches SaturdayCarson, a retired neurosurgeon, argued "there wouldn't be people coming in here if there wasn't a magnet pulling them in," suggesting there should be criminal punishment for employers who hire undocumented workersThe main target in the immigration battle, however, was President Barack Obama's executive action to delay deportation for up to five million undocumented immigrantsOr as Palin put it, in her folksy swagger, Obama's decision makes him seem "like an overgrown little boy who's just acting kinda spoiled."Speakers railed against the President's pledge to use his "pen and his phone" to work around Congress, with immigration as just one example of what many called the president's "overreach."That was punctuated when DREAM Act Coalition protesters interrupted Rick Perry's speech, leading to one arrest and theater full of Iowans trying to drown out the demonstrators' chantsThe potential candidates also warned about what they see as a dire path for the country, in particular when it comes to foreign policy, a theme that, along with immigration, also seems poised to become a flash point in the 2016 presidential race, unlike in 2012Santorum argued that the growth of ISIS is a consequence of the "isolationism" and "weakness" from the Obama's administrationCruz, like several speakers, said the President will fail in the war on terror if he refuses to use the words "radical Islamic terrorism."Huckabee blasted Obama for devoting more time to climate change in the State of the Union address than talking about terrorism"A beheading is a far greater threat to Americans than a sunburn," Huckabee saidThe issuesThere was plenty of the usual Iowa charm on stage, speeches with pig analogies and corn referencesAnd there was more than one reference to how people in Iowa are somehow taller than averageShown on a big screen above the stage was an image of a red barn sitting on a green hill surrounded by white fencesSteve King's name — in all caps — was plastered across banners on the stage, as well as the podium.The contenders also dished out a bevy of red meat, blasting Obamacare, Common Core, the media, Hillary Clinton and the $18 trillion debtCruz won huge applause for proposing to place 110,000 IRS employees on the southern border, joking that they'll do a better job at deterring illegal immigration than anything elseGiving a shout out to the state's newly elected U.Ssenator, Joni Ernst, was also a popular item on the agenda for the potential candidatesNearly all of them referred to her as their "friend," and almost equal amount of affection and time was dedicated to the state's other beloved senator, Chuck GrassleyWalker, who, like Cruz, paced the stage back and forth as he spoke, delivered an impressive speech that honed in on his record as governorHe talked about implementing voter ID laws, and he painted himself as the valiant warrior who took on the public employees and won during the collective bargaining rights debate of 2011He also didn't forget to mention that he's been elected three times in the past four yearsShortly after his speech, two men, both from Council Bluffs, talked outside about how they were wowed by Walker's remarks"If he could do on a nationwide scale what he did in Wisconsin, this country would be," one man, Michael Patomson, started to say, before his friend, Bill Hartzell, interjected: "TransformedThe country would be transformed." The receptionMany attendees had a hard time picking just one favorite in the line of potential contendersSeveral mentioned Fiorina as a surprise hit"There was just a pantheon of people to listen to," said Eric Rosenthal of Cedar Rapids"Rick Perry was better than last time I heard him — that's goodHe needs it," said Ernie Rudolph of Dallas County, IowaChristie also saw a warm reception and contested the idea that a Republican governor of a blue state who has a "Jersey guy" reputation will not connect with voters in Iowa"That somehow I'm too loud, I'm too blunt and I'm too direct," Christie said, dismissing the criticism as "conventional wisdom" from Washington pundits"They're wrong."Still, he was noticeably different from his usual styleHis demeanor was toned down and he read from his prepared remarks on the podium, a stark contrast to his preferred off-the-cuff methodSome of the chatter in the hallways and to reporters also featured two potential contenders who weren't there: Jeb Bush and Mitt RomneyTrump put it simply: "Mitt had his chanceHe should have won and he choked." As for Bush: "We've had enough of the Bushes." SensRand Paul and Marco Rubio, as well as GovBobby Jindal, also skipped the event, but given that it's year ahead before Iowans start to caucus, it's unlikely that missing one event will hurt themSaturday's event was more of a curtain raiser, giving the first glimpse of what will likely be a competitive Republican primaryWalker, as he closed his speech, offered a pledge that will likely be mirrored by several of the speakers on stage over the next year: "I'm going to come back many more times."CNN's Adam Levy contributed to this report2016 NewsThe GOP battle for the middle classRating 2016 candidates by donors busts conventional wisdomClinton camp split on when to launch campaignHambycast: Searching for freedom in IowaPhotos: Potential 2016 presidential candidatesWalker seizes 2016 momentum, leads GOP pack in IowaHere are the senators who have already endorsed Hillary ClintonReality check: Jeb Bush's conservative recordWhich GOP 2016 hopeful might be most like Reagan?Dodging the big question: running in 2016? More from PoliticsSchock aide resigns, office decorations under scrutinyWhite House to request permission to fight ISISThe events that lead to the conflict in UkraineMore from Jeb Bush heads to Iowa next month Wall Street Journal editorial board skewers Rand PaulMind the (media) gap: Christie skips the press in Londonvar CNN = CNN || {};CNN.contentModel = { layout: "left-rail-tall" , sectionName: "politics" , pageType: "article" , env: "prod" , type: "page" , analytics: {"author":"Ashley Killough","publishDate":"2015-01-25T18:20:09Z","pageBranding":"default","cap_genre":"General News","cap_mediaType":"Text","cap_topics":"JFF, 9CC, DJ9, 84B, BMH, BMN, 80P, BLL, DJ4, DHX, 50Y, LB, BRT, 77, DBV, BLX, 91X, BPT, BNK","branding_content_page":"default","branding_content_zone":["default"],"branding_content_container":["default"],"branding_content_card":[""]} , edition: "domestic" , title: "2016 race kicks off with long day of auditions in Iowa " , companion: {"enabled":true,"layoutType":"autoPlay","layoutStates":{"small":{"default":[{"target":"ad_rect_atf_01","replace":"companion-ad_rect_atf_01"},{"target":"ad_bnr_atf_01","replace":"companion-ad_bnr_atf_01"}]},"large":{"default":[{"target":"freewheel-rail-placeholder","replace":"freewheel-rail"}],"removeEpicAds":[{"target":"ad_rect_atf_01","replace":"empty"},{"target":"ad_bnr_atf_01","replace":"empty"}],"restoreEpicAds":[{"target":"ad_rect_atf_01","replace":"companion-ad_rect_atf_01"},{"target":"ad_bnr_atf_01","replace":"companion-ad_bnr_atf_01"},{"target":"freewheel-rail-placeholder","replace":"empty"}]}},"ids":{"ad_rect_atf_01":"suppress","ad_bnr_atf_01":"suppress"}} , registryURL: "", entitlementSingletons: [{"id":"ad_mod_011ba0778","scriptName":""},{"id":"ad_mod_9f54af080","scriptName":""},{"id":"ad_mod_ca8399b29","scriptName":""},{"id":"ad_mod_6bcebe613","scriptName":""}] , singletonFile: "" };NewsU.S.WorldPoliticsTechHealthEntertainmentLivingTravelMoneySportsVideoCNNgoLatest NewsMust Watch VideosDigital StudiosTVCNNgoScheduleCNN FilmsShows A-ZAnchors and Reporters A-ZOpinionsPolitical Op-EdsSocial CommentaryiReportMore…PhotosLongformInvestigationsCNN profiles A-Z

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