STORY BY JAKE BULLINGTON
Ten presidential candidates going head-to-head for the Republican nomination rendezvoused at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines Saturday. The candidates hoped to win the hearts, minds and votes of Iowa GOP caucus-goers.
The Republican Party of Iowa held the first Growth and Opportunity Party, allowing candidates to distinguish themselves to the early voting state — a critical step in winning the Republican nomination.
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) was the first to take the stage Saturday and used his time as a call-to-action for Iowa Republicans.
“Iowa has become a tough state to win. We lost the last two times to President Obama here,” Paul said.
Senator Paul informed the audience that not only do they have to choose who will be the nominee, but who will be able to win the general election a year from now.
“There are 18 states that (Republicans) haven’t won in 30 years,” Paul said. “How are we going to win those states again?”
Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee and Jeb Bush, among others, also took the stage to outline their positions on subjects such as the tax code and IRS, the economy and foreign policy.
Absent from the collection of candidates were Ben Carson, George Pataki, John Kasich and Donald Trump.
Taking place less than a week after the third Republican presidential debate, the event also gave candidates a chance to give their thoughts on the debate.
U.S. Senator from Texas Ted Cruz used the moderators’ performance on Wednesday to his advantage.
Cruz accused the media of being simply “left-wing liberals” and “left-wing operatives,” drawing the largest applause of the day.
Other candidates, such as former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, also mentioned the debate as an appeal to the crowd.
The event brought in about two thousand people, including several Drake University students. These students were allured by the convenience of a plethora of presidential candidates in one room.
First-year actuarial science major Craig Nielsen felt attending the event would help him better decide who he will support during the caucus this February.
Nielsen is a student in journalism professor Lee Jolliffe’s Iowa caucus first year seminar, and got free tickets through the class.
“I had very little political knowledge before I came to Drake, and I went to the (Jefferson-Jackson) dinner last weekend, and this GOP event, and they’re very different,” Nielsen said. “It is so cool how you can get so close and meet basically everyone that has such a big name.”
Although the atmosphere may not have been ideal for Nielsen, he valued the experience.
“There was a lot of background noise at this event,” Nielsen said. “I would have liked to have just sat down and listened to some more formal speeches. I got a picture with Ted Cruz too, so that was cool.”
Nathan Paulsen, first-year politics and economics double major, shared his impressions of the candidates’ performances.
“Christie has actually been surprising me the last couple weeks,” Paulsen said. “Ted gave his regular speech, he attacked the media. Ted Cruz, he knows who he’s speaking to.”
The Growth and Opportunity Party is just the latest big name political event to stop in Des Moines, giving Drake students the chance to see their potential new commander in chief just minutes away from campus.
“Just seeing students from Drake, being politically involved, even regardless of their party, they’re getting more informed. That’s what I like to see the most,” Nielsen said.