High-profile conservatives to gather in Des Moines


Rep. Steve King spoke at the 2014 Family Leadership Summit on Aug. 9 at Stephens Auditorium.

Alex Hanson

Almost two-dozen big-name Conservative politicians and activists are set to gather for an eight-hour summit in Des Moines this weekend.

The first ever “Iowa Freedom Summit,” put together by the Conservative group Citizens United and U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, will take place at 9 a.m. Jan. 24 at the Hoyt Sherman Place in Des Moines.

“Coming off our successful New Hampshire Freedom Summit last spring, the Iowa Freedom Summit will only build on that success and bring grassroots conservatives together in the Hawkeye State,” said David Bossie, president of Citizens United, according to a press release. “This free event will focus on how America can get back on the right track. It will feature speakers who will talk about the importance of pro-growth economics, social conservatism and a strong national defense.”

About a dozen of the speakers will get an early opportunity to gauge support from Iowa voters as they contemplate a run for the White House in 2016.

“Well you kind of have [to come early],” said Mack Shelley, professor of political science at Iowa State. “Iowa is what they call a “retail politics” state, you have to do a lot of shaking hands. Here we are kind of knee deep in candidates on an individual and personal level.”

Several of the following high-profile candidates who are considering White House bids will be attending the event.

Dr. Ben Carson

Carson is a world-famous neurosurgeon — turned FOX News contributor — and has become widely popular among conservatives after several speeches he gave in 2013. In November 2014, Carson ended his contributing role with FOX, widely seen as a hint to a possible 2016 campaign. In a November 2014 interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, Carson said, “I feel fingers,” referring to the fingers of God pushing him to run for president. Carson has been the subject of a draft movement to get him to run, even naming county chairs in each of Iowa’s 99 counties.

“He’s an interesting case, kind of a fresh face on the menu,” Shelley said. “Carson is an interesting situation. The neurosurgeon background is kind of different. He represents a wing of the party, a very conservative element, both in terms of pro-business and pro-life.”

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz

The senator has represented Texas since 2013 and has inserted himself as one of the most conservative voices in the upper chamber. Cruz is widely expected to announce a bid for the White House in 2016 and has already made several trips to early primary states, including Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

“Cruz is very well established and is still relatively new in Congress. He is a leader, if not the leader of the very conservative wing of the party,” Shelley said. “Cruz really personifies the tea-party the way someone like Palin or Bachman would have before.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie

This outspoken Republican has been governor of New Jersey since 2010 and has also been chairman of the Republican Governors Association since 2013. Christie was widely seen as a potential candidate in 2012 and has recently met with policy advisers and donors to discuss a White House bid in 2016.

“Christie is a really different wing of the party,” Shelley said. “It’ll be interesting to see if Christie can hold his own because there isn’t much left to the centrist part of either party, but particularly the Republican party. Christie is a center-right kind of guy.”

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee

The former Arkansas governor — turned FOX News host — won the Iowa caucus in January 2008 but later dropped out in March. Huckabee recently ended his eponymous FOX show to prepare for a possible run in 2016.

“He’s not quite appealing to the tea-party wing,” Shelley said. “He’s really a solid evangelical favorite, I think. He really puts God before anything, it’s sort of the God-and-country theme that he lives and dies by. He’s had a lot of media experience doing talk shows and FOX News. He will certainly help to fire up the evangelical wing.”

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry

The longest-serving governor in Texas history will have been out of office less than a week when he speaks this weekend. Perry ran for the Republican nomination in 2012 but dropped out in mid-January. Recently, Perry has said he “is ready” for another presidential bid and will run a better campaign after several mistakes in 2012.

“He’s sort of in between jobs at the moment,” Shelley said. “He’s always an interesting case and he needs to be better scripted this time. He resonated well in Texas, which is a big chunk of the Republican base and the donor base. There is a solid wing of the party that sees him as someone who has helped turned Texas deep red.”

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum

This former senator served two-terms in the senate and ran unsuccessfully in 2012, even after winning the Iowa caucus. In a December 2014 interview with the Washington Post, Santorum said, “America loves an underdog. We’re definitely the underdog in this race,” signaling he would likely run in 2016.

“Santorum appeals to the evangelical wing, and he has a really hard edge on issues like abortion,” Shelley said. “He won’t let them go, which may have projected him into the Senate. He also lost his Senate seat by a big margin. He’s a good spokesperson, he has a good media presence and is very well known in the state.”

Several others have expressed interest in running in 2016, including U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton, former H.P. CEO Carly Fiorina, former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore and businessman Donald Trump.

A handful of the speakers at the event are not expected to launch presidential bids but will play an important part in the upcoming election.

Those speakers include U.S. Rep. Rod Blum, R-Iowa; Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad; former U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint; U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C.; U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich; U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa; U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah; New Hampshire State Rep. William O’Brien; former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Iowa Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds.

“One way to think about what they are doing is that they are setting the agenda or setting the table,” Shelley said. “They are lions of the party and it’s an opportunity for people to demonstrate how important they are.”

Notably absent from the event are several potential candidates, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has launched an exploratory committee and a Super PAC to raise money for a presidential bid. Former Massachusetts Governor and 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney, who has signaled in the past two weeks that he is seriously considering a third try at the White House in 2016, will not be attending, as well.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal; Ohio Gov. John Kasich; U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.; Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., also will not be in attendance.

“Some of them have already been here. Rand Paul has been a presence in Iowa, so it isn’t like these people are totally alien to the state of the Iowa,” Shelley said. “They are going to want to operate strategically. The Freedom Summit is for a particular wing of the party after all, so for somebody who wants to be center-right, instead of [farther right], it could create trouble in primaries to be seen as too much apart of one wing of the party.”

Steve King has said publically that he would welcome Bush and Romney to the event, but other scheduling conflicts have kept them from attending. Either way, King said the event will energize voters for next year’s caucus.

“Iowa’s First in the Nation status has created an informed, engaged and active electorate all eager to begin the evaluation process of potential leaders of the free world,” King said. “The Iowa Freedom Summit will further energize conservatives and begin the caucus season in earnest.”

Tickets for the event are sold out but C-SPAN will broadcast the entire event on cable and stream the event online.