About 1,500 Republicans gathered near Boone today to eat pulled pork for lunch and listen to seven Republican presidential hopefuls boast of their own records and roast President Obama, Hillary Clinton and, sometimes, one another.
Senator Joni Ernst greeted the crowd shortly before two o’clock.
“This is my first inaugural ‘Roast and Ride,'” Ernst said. “We do hope we will do this every year, so start looking ahead at next year on your calendar and prepare, because I think it’s going to be twice as big next year.”
Ernst and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker — a likely, but not-yet-declared candidate — were at the front of a line of more than 300 motorcyclists who went on a 45-minute road trip from Des Moines to Boone that ended at event site. During his turn on stage, Walker emphasized foreign policy, with a warning about “radical Islamic terrorism.”
“We need a president in this country who’s going to stand up and tell the American people what may be hard to say, that this threat isn’t like the Cold War where containment isn’t enough,” Walker said. “No instead, this is like a virus and if we don’t take it out, we’re in trouble.”
Newly-declared candidate Rick Perry organized his own fundraiser in Perry, Iowa, and motorcycle ride to Boone. When he spoke to the crowd, Perry emphasized his 15-year record as the governor of Texas.
“This going to be a ‘show me, don’t tell me’ election,” Perry said, repeating a theme from his announcement speech this past week. “This is going to be one of those where we stand and say, ‘What have you done? Where have you led?'”
Florida Senator Marco Rubio suggested both Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush were the wrong choices for 2016.
“If we keep promoting the same people, we will get the same result and the future will leave us behind,” Rubio said.
Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee criticized policies, including expanded trade, that he argued have “shrunk the economy.”
“I don’t want to be president so I can create jobs in China,” Huckabee said. “I want to be president so we can create good jobs in America, for Americans. I’m not a globalist.”
Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina touted a recent FOX News poll that found 64 percent of voters would like to see Fiorina debate the Democratic Party’s likely presidential nominee.
“I think what we need to ask Hillary Clinton now is: ‘Mrs. Clinton, what else don’t we know?'” Fiorina said.
Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, suggested the Republican competitors would not be “tearing each other up” like the GOP candidates did in 2012.
“That was a big mistake. We’re going to do better,” Carson said. “We know who the enemy is and it is not us.”
South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham spoke at length about the need to send troops back into the Middle East to defeat Islamic militants there and to make changes at home in Social Security and Medicare.
“There’s no problem that can’t be fixed and there’s no way to fix these problems without sacrifice,” Graham said. “If you’re looking for an easy way ahead, I’m not your guy.”
Today’s event was held outdoors, on the Central Iowa Expo grounds near Boone where the Iowa Republican Party plans to hold its Iowa Straw Poll in August. None of the candidates have committed to participating, however, and critics say it’s an event that should end. Congressman Steve King defended it during his speech earlier this afternoon.
“We have about 10 announced candidates and another five or six waiting in the wings and so this process that happens here August 8 needs to happen,” King said. “And it needs to happen a couple more times maybe across the country. Maybe New Hampshire, if you’re out there listening. Maybe South Carolina, if you’re out there listening. The field does need to be narrowed. We don’t want to say no to anybody, but it needs to be narrowed.”
The next event which will attract a group of GOP candidates to the state is set for mid-July. The host organization is The Family Leader, a conservative Christian organization that had rented facilities in Ames for August, but moved their annual “Family Leadership Summit” into July once Iowa GOP leaders decided to once again hold their Straw Poll. Six candidates have said they’ll be at the summit in July.