Carly Fiorina and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, two of the lesser-known potential candidates for the GOP nomination in 2016, came out as stars in the Iowa Freedom Summit on Saturday, proving themselves among the more famous conservatives who took the stage.
"Carly Fiorina, whom most people had never heard of, got the best response," former Oklahoma GOP Chairman Gary Jones, who attended the marathon 10-hour event Saturday, told The Washington Times
"She came across as a highly intelligent woman and a strong leader as the ex-chief executive of the biggest tech firm in the world," Jones said, adding "she did herself the most good.”
Fiorina, who now chairs the American Conservative Union, is the former chief executive officer of Hewlett-Packard, and won praise for her measured, intelligent speech that also took stinging shots at presumptive Democratic front-runner
Meanwhile, Walker, the winner of two tough elections in Wisconsin after taking on the state's unions, also made his mark at the Des Moines event that featured speeches from numerous GOP presidential hopefuls, including people like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, all of whom normally get more attention.
Walker has a reputation of being an understated speaker, The Times reports, but he improved his position, "walking from one end of the stage to the other, with sleeves rolled up and no teleprompter, talking substance — what he would actually do as president," Jones said.
"We had heard he can be a lackluster speaker. He wasn’t.”
Walker received several standing ovations
, and several news outlets reported the crowd at the summit was more receptive to him than they were to other speakers, including Cruz, Christie and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
Veteran election watchers said they were impressed by the event, sponsored by Iowa Rep. Steve King, overall, particularly with the conservatives that crowded in and stayed through the whole event.
"We thought most people would head home after a few hours and watch the rest on TV, but the candidates were surprisingly all on their game and people stuck around," said West Des Moines caucus chairman Richard Rogers. "My wife said she was afraid to go to the restroom for fear of missing something — it was almost all that good."
While the Iowa event was going on, in Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal was sponsoring an event of his own, teaming with California-based conservative organizer David Lane to bring in 200 pastors for a training session on how to seek political office.
And while the Iowa event got more press play, the Jindal-Lane event is being seen as one of the largest pushes to enlist evangelicals, many of whom are considered more aligned with the Republican national platform.
"Our goal in 2016 is to have 1,000 pastors running for city council, county commissioner, school board, mayor, Congress — who attract an average of 300 Christian volunteers per campaign," Lane said. "That would amount to a total 300,000 grassroots, evangelical, precinct-level conservatives — from the bottom up — in 2016," he added.
And while some in Iowa said Jindal's presence was missed, the Baton Rouge event was better attended, with some 6,000 born-again Christians on hand, Lane told the Times.
Tickets for the Iowa event sold out, but the much smaller venue held an estimated 1,300 attendees, all there to learn about candidates other than former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney, both front-runners in a field where no candidates have officially announced their intentions.
And Romney, Bush, and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul skipped the Iowa event, which some said was a mistake.
"I think Rand hurt himself by not showing," Jones told The Times. "He tends to make more sense, to be more substantive, to deliver his message a little better than most. Iowans didn’t get to see that."
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