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2016 hopefuls pitch their presidential qualities at GOP meetings

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    To politics now and the 2016 race for the White House.

    On Saturday, nearly a dozen Republican hopefuls made their way to Iowa to woo conservative activists at the inaugural Freedom Summit. Speakers included Donald Trump, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

    GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) New Jersey: Now let me ask you this. If I was too blunt, too direct, too loud and too New Jersey for Iowa, then why do you people keep inviting me back?

    GOV. SCOTT WALKER, (R) Wisconsin: If you're not afraid to go big and go bold, you can actually get results.

  • DONALD TRUMP:

    It can't be mitt, because Mitt ran and failed. He failed.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • DONALD TRUMP:

    The last thing we need is another Bush.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And then, on Sunday, focus shifted West to Palm Springs, California. Senators Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz participated in a forum before some 400 potential donors at the winter meeting of Freedom Partners. That's a conservative group aligned with the billionaire Koch brothers.

    Joining us now to talk about it all are Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Nia-Malika Henderson of The Washington Post.

    It's great to see you both again.

  • AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report:

    Good to be here.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Only 500-and-some days to go before the…But we're not going to — that's not going to stop us.

  • AMY WALTER:

    No. No.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    What stands out to you about these early, early events, Amy?

  • AMY WALTER:

    I mean, the fact that they are so early, right?

    We are 500-some days away. And we had a lot of candidates in Iowa and a lot of press in Iowa. There were over 200 credentialed reporters trying to size up these candidates.

    Look, they are all trying out for different types of audiences, voters, but also donors. That's the voters in Iowa, the donors in California, of course, but then more generally, the more — the national media. A lot of these folks aren't household names. And they're trying to break out and show that they have the mettle, they have the stuff to be a serious candidate.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, they come to these things with their own agenda.

  • NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, The Washington Post:

    That's right.

    I mean, each of them are them with their own agenda. Chris Christie saying, I can play in Iowa. People might think I'm pugnacious, but I can play in Iowa and I can other places, too. You had Mike Huckabee, who of course won Iowa in 2008, him telling the audience there that, listen, Common Core, don't believe what you have heard about my stance on Common Core.

    Ben Carson, I thought, was much more sort of mild-mannered than he normally is. He usually is very pugnacious and sort of says something to stir the crowd up and stir up the media. He had sort of a more sort of bedside manner-type speech.

    Scott Walker, I thought, really a guy who broke from the pack. This is a guy that I think people don't see as very charismatic, but he really wowed the crowd and he reminded everybody that he's won three times over the four races he's — over in the last four years for governor.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Amy, do they have to do these events? We know that not everybody went.

  • AMY WALTER:

    Right.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Mitt Romney didn't go. Jeb Bush didn't go to either one of these events.

  • AMY WALTER:

    That's right.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, why do they need to do this?

  • AMY WALTER:

    So, I think a lot of it is to try to get some of that early buzz.

    Again, one of the downsides of being a Scott Walker is even Republicans don't really know much about Scott Walker. So, here was his chance. Again, you're introducing yourself not just to Iowa voters, but to a whole national media scrum, who is going to take that story and push it forward into the big national media.

    And of course, who reads and digest the national media? A lot of donors. Right? So, a lot of this playing up what we call the invisible primary. This is not about trying to get the votes in the bank today. Today, it's about getting the bank in the bank and also positioning yourself to get more money to put in the bank.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, Nia-Malika, we described both of these groups that organized these as conservative, the conservative freedom gathering in Iowa, same thing. Is this just one spectrum of the Republican voter electorate that these candidates have to worry about?

  • NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON:

    Well, I think, in Iowa, yes, that's one spectrum.

    I think there are probably three altogether, right? It's sort of the evangelicals, then the Tea Party crowd, sort of the crowd that liked Ron Paul and likes Rand Paul now, and then the establishment crowd, and that's more Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney.

    But I think you also saw somebody like Ted Cruz, who was at both, right? He was in Iowa and he was also in California. He's trying to play both sides. He's going to those donors and saying, listen, you have heard about me being the Tea Party guy, being the evangelical guy, but I can also play in these circles too and be more the Chamber of Commerce Republican as well.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Why is the media — Amy, what did you say, 300…

  • AMY WALTER:

    Yes, something like 200 credentialed.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Why?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • AMY WALTER:

    This is what's so much fun about 2016. And, again, I know there are a lot of people viewing this right now and thinking, really? 2016 is so far away.

  • NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON:

    Yes.

  • AMY WALTER:

    But this is such a wide-open race for president.

    None of us who have covered this for any period of time have seen a Republican race that looks as wide open as this. We really cannot tell you the front-runner is, nonetheless who's going to be the nominee. And that just doesn't happen. So, we're all watching and waiting to see how these candidates perform, especially how they perform under the microscope.

    And that's going to start occurring on a more regular basis. This was just a first act.

  • NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON:

    Yes.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, people really do believe that one of the — quote, unquote — "lesser known, also-ran" types could make it?

  • NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON:

    Possibly.

    If you would have asked us probably six ago if Romney was seriously thinking about getting in, we probably would have said no. I don't think people thought Jeb Bush would necessarily get in, that he had too much baggage with that Bush last name.

    But we will see. People are running who have had experience. And that's part of their argument, that they have done this before, that they have gotten the billion dollars or the capability of raising a billion dollars. So that sort of also-ran quality is both a positive and a negative.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And how do Republicans think about Iowa? This is a state, the last few winners of the Iowa caucuses have gone on basically to disappear.

    Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee won the last few times. They didn't win the nomination.

  • AMY WALTER:

    Right.

    And the candidate who is the furthest on the right, especially on social issues, the evangelical issues, is the candidate that wins. Now, Mitt Romney technically won on the election night, and then it came to be that Rick Santorum had more votes.

    But the bottom line is, you're right. The more right you go, the more likely you are to win the Iowa — the fight in Iowa. And, of course, that's not the kind of message you want to bring out to — even to the rest of the Republican Party going to New Hampshire and Florida, et cetera.

    So I think Iowa is still important, in that it's an easy place for everybody to try and get together, test out their message, see how they play in a crowded field. Remember, there's not just going to be one conservative. There are plenty of conservatives in the mix.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Yes. And anything like this for moderates in the Republican Party?

  • NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON:

    In terms of a state like Iowa? I mean, I think it's more like New Hampshire, which is after Iowa, how they play in Florida. Can they get that big money to play in that big field because the ad rates there are so high and it's such a big state?

    But in terms of Iowa, I do think how you play in Iowa, whether or not you go too far to the right, as we saw Mitt Romney doing — some people think that's why Mitt Romney lost, because he went so far to the right in trying to capture some of that momentum in Iowa around immigration reform.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, we have only a few more days before we have got to get it all figured out.

  • AMY WALTER:

    That's right.

  • NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON:

    That's right.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    We're almost there.

    Nia-Malika Henderson, Amy Walter, thank you.

  • AMY WALTER:

    Thanks, Judy.

  • NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON:

    Thanks.