On Saturday, the largest gathering of potential Republican candidates to date are heading to Iowa for the annual Freedom Summit, marking an informal kickoff to the 2016 presidential campaign.
The event, which is organized by Rep. Steve King and Citizens United, is expected to attract roughly 1,250 Iowans from the state's conservative grassroots base made up of evangelical Christians, tea party supporters, and libertarian activists, according to The New York Times
"The King event is significant. It's the kickoff for the cycle for Republicans," Craig Robinson, a former political director of the Iowa Republican Party, told The Hill
"It's basically a year out and it's going to be the first real time where Iowans are going to gather, look at these candidates side-by-side and really start deciding who they like."
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson will all be speakers at the event
in support of "pro-growth economics, social conservatism, and a strong national defense."
Each will looking to be distinguishing themselves in a crowded field, both from one another and from Republican moderates who may throw their hats into the ring, the Times reported.
Other than Christie, other potential establishment candidates
have chosen not to attend, likely because of what critics say is King's controversial reputation.
In particular, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, and 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney will not be attending, having cited scheduling conflicts, according to The Hill. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul have also chosen not to attend.
"This is a really important event. You only get one chance to make a first impression," conservative activist Sam Clovis, who was the Iowa GOP's 2014 nominee for state treasurer, told The Hill.
"Someone that can present a bold vision for this country and can convince us they have the wherewithal to lead this nation, that person has an incredible advantage with the base of the Republican Party," Clovis said.
King is said to be a controversial figure for his positions on illegal immigration, particularly in recent weeks, and questions on the issue are expected to be posed to the politicians at the event who will be tested on their positions.
King came under fire earlier this week after he criticized President Barack Obama on Twitter
for inviting to the State of the Union Address a Mexican immigrant who had been brought to the country illegally when she was a child. King described the woman as "a deportable."
DREAMERS, or children who came to the United States as children illegally, are expected to hold a demonstration outside the Freedom Summit on Saturday, MSNBC reported.
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