Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker declared to Iowa Republicans on Saturday that "it's time in America that we start leading, not just here but around the world."
"We need a president who will stand up and tell the American people what may be hard to say: that this threat is not the threat that we faced in the Cold War, where containment's enough," Walker said about destroying the Islamic State at the inaugural charity "Roast and Ride" sponsored by Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst in Boone.
"This is like a virus — and if we don’t take it out, we're in trouble," Walker said.
"I don’t believe in open-ended engagements, but I believe we need a president who will say that, 'This not going to take a day, a month, or a year — but I, on behalf of your children and mine, would rather take the fight to them instead of waiting for them to bring the fight to us.
"We need to lead from the front again in America," he said.
Walker, who joined Ernst on his Harley-Davidson Road King for a 49-mile ride from Des Moines to the fundraiser in Ernst’s hometown, was among seven Republican presidential candidates and hopefuls who attended a pig roast and other activities at the event.
The others were declared candidates: Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina; former Govs. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Rick Perry of Texas; retired pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson, and former Hewlett-Packard Co. CEO Carly Fiorina.
Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton also addressed the crowd — as did Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, Rep. Steve King, and Gov. Terry Branstad.
Walker currently holds a 7-point lead in the Iowa poll
. He is soon expected to announce his candidacy. The Hawkeye State holds its Republican caucuses on Feb. 2 in the first test of the 2016 presidential season.
The "Roast and Ride" served as a prime political gathering, with the Iowa straw poll losing its relevance and its annual steak fry for Democrats ended. It follows similar weekend events for GOP hopefuls held around the country in recent months, including summits in New Hampshire and South Carolina.
"In Iowa, it is extremely important to do this," said Ernst, who was elected in November. "Iowans want to see their candidates. They want to reach out and shake their hand. They want to ask that question face to face."
Graham wouldn't have it any other way.
"God bless the Iowa caucuses," the senator while posing for pictures with voters near the barbecue tents. This form of campaigning "is the difference between winning and losing," he said. "If you don't do this you're going to lose."
Wearing jeans and full Harley gear — jacket, boots, gloves, black T-shirt sporting the Milwaukee-based company's logo — Walker and Ernst were joined by 300 riders. The governor was the only hopeful to ride with the freshman senator.
Rubio, also in his first term on Capitol Hill, declined an invitation to ride on the back of Ernst's bike.
"I look forward to doing it soon at some point," the senator said as he was being mobbed for photos. "If we can get a jet-ski ride going, I can take her."
Huckabee said that he did not feel left out by not riding along.
"If I had ridden a motorcycle, I'm not sure I would have made it," said the former governor, who won the 2008 caucuses. "If God wanted me to be on a motorcycle, he would have given me two wheels instead of two legs."
Eying the scene, Carson reflected on his days of practicing medicine at the Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore.
"I can't tell you how many nights I spent in an operating room, operating on people who were riding motorcycles," he said.
About 25 miles away, Perry held his own ride — from Perry, Iowa — to raise money for an organization that provides service dogs to wounded veterans.
He also held a rally at a local hotel that featured several retired Navy SEALs, including "Lone Survivor" Marcus Luttrell and Taya Kyle, the widow of "American Sniper" Chris Kyle.
"I'm on a stage here with some legitimate American heroes," Perry said.
Falling on the 71st anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy during World War II, other speakers also paid homage to veterans and those who died while defending the nation.
Walker asked the crowd to participate in a brief moment of silence.
Speaking from a stage flanked by bales of hay, the Republicans focused their attacks on Barack Obama and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
They slammed them on everything from the country's anemic economic growth to Obamacare to national security.
"What has made America amazing is that in those times of crisis, there have been men and women of courage who were willing to stand up and think more about the future of their children and their grandchildren than of their own futures," Walker said.
"This is one of those times," he added. "This is one of those moments in American history where we can look back and tell future generations: 'We were there. We stood up and heeded the call. We did what was required to make America great again.'"
Like all the speakers, Walker also thanked Ernst for her service as a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard and for hosting the event. She made headlines during her Senate campaign with a commercial touting her hog-castration skills.
"I love a senator who knows how to castrate a pig, ride a Hog and cut the pork from Washington, D.C.," Walker told the cheering crowd. "Now, wouldn't it be nice to give her an ally in the White House to get the job done?"
Perry, who announced his bid earlier this week, said that he was running because "America's freedoms are the best in the world, and we need to fight for them every day.
"You deserve a president who will wake up every day, go that Oval Office and defend America's values, traditional values of this country — Western values all over this world," he said.
Carson stressed the importance of "common-sense conservatives" coming together to revitalize the nation.
"If we all use this common sense, if we are willing to exercise it and have a willingness to work together, then through the grace of God we can make this work."
Fiorina continued her attacks on Clinton for having few unscripted moments since her campaign began in April.
The former CEO questioned whether Clinton had ever ridden on a John Deere tractor, as Fiorina did at another event earlier Saturday.
"I know she's had a few photo ops," Fiorina quipped.
Huckabee bashed the nine justices of "the extreme court" — encouraging Iowans to oppose rulings that undercut the nation's moral fabric — and said that he was running again because his fifth grandchild was expected to be born on Sunday.
"I am on a mission to make this country better for these five grandchildren," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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