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Politics & Government

Republicans Gather To Galvanize, Share Ideas At 'Freedom Summit'

ARUN RATH, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

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

RATH: Ready or not, the 2016 presidential race is underway. That was the voice of Iowa congressman, Steve King, speaking to a big crowd in downtown Des Moines, today, for what is the first big multi-candidate public event of the campaign season. Iowa, of course, will hold its first-in-the-nation caucuses just over one year from now. So when King, a conservative from the northwest corner of the state, invited would-be White House hopefuls to attend a daylong event in Des Moines, nine of them showed up. If it's Iowa and politics, there's a decent chance you'll find NPR correspondent, Don Gonyea, there. Don, greetings.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Hi there.

RATH: So it's still January of 2015. Given that, who's found their way to Iowa?

GONYEA: Here you go - Chris Christie, Rick Perry, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, some less well-known folks like retired neurosurgeon, Ben Carson. The business executive, Carly Fiorina, is here, former ambassador, John Bolton. Sarah Palin is here. So, too, is - are you ready - Donald Trump. Of course, there are lots of names missing - Romney, Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and a handful of other potentials.

RATH: And I've got to put in a plug because former governor, Mike Huckabee, is going to be on the show later on this hour. Let me ask you, though. Does the crowd seem - are they fired-up and ready for this?

GONYEA: They seem very ready. You know, you go around the country and people are so glad the election's over, and they're sick of it. But these are activists who've showed up here - more than 1,000 of them at this beautiful old theater downtown. They like the role they play. They like that the caucuses kick everything off, and yes, they're ready.

RATH: So in this so crowd of potential candidates, are there any early standouts?

GONYEA: I think when the stories are written about this event - and even in the early days - I think you're going to hear a lot about Wisconsin governor, Scott Walker. Now, people know of him and his battles with unions in Wisconsin, something that goes over very big in a conservative room like this here. And they know that he's a conservative who's been elected in a state that's gone blue in presidential elections for many, many cycles now, but people don't really know him. They don't really know what he's like.

And he prowled the stage, today, in his shirt sleeves, and, you know, he talked about those battles with unions. And then, he went into this riff on the economy that kind of gets to his frugality. He talked about how when he first got married 23 years ago, he made a big mistake. He paid full price for a gift from Kohl's - that Wisconsin-based department store. He paid full price at Kohl's for a gift for his wife, and she let him have it. He said he got in trouble for it, so he said he learned. Now, listen to this riff from Walker.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

GOVERNOR SCOTT WALKER: So now, If I'm going to go pick up a new shirt, I go to that rack that says it was $29.99, and I say it's marked down to $19.99. And then because I'm well-trained, I get that insert out from the Sunday newspaper. And I take it up to the clerk with my Kohl's credit card, and I get another 10 percent or 15 percent off. And then, I watch that mailer 'cause man, Tonette shops there a lot, so I know I'm going to get another 10 percent or 15 percent off. And if I'm really lucky, I get that flyer with 30 percent off, right, right?

GONYEA: And that story goes on for about another minute or so, but here's the deal. He turns it into a pitch on the economy, on saving money, on cutting taxes, on doing what it takes. It also appeals to, you know, women in the crowd, and it gives him kind of real, kind of working-class, regular-guy cred. So that story played really well as part of a speech that was well-received.

RATH: (Laughter) NPR's Don Gonyea at the Freedom Summit in Des Moines, Iowa. Don, thank you.

GONYEA: It's my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.