DES MOINES, Iowa — Three possible Republican candidates for the 2016 presidential race were in Iowa on Saturday to offer their prescriptions for uniting the GOP and rally party faithful in the early primary state.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul and former U.S. Sen Rick Santorum offered a mix of vision for Republican leadership and criticism of Democrats.
It is Paul’s third trip to Iowa since the 2012 election. The Kentucky senator said the GOP should maintain its core message but make the party more attractive to black and Hispanic voters.
“There’s a way to expand the party, staying true to the core message, but finding parts of your message that attract new people,” he said in an interview.
He cited conversations he says he’s had with university students. While they might not care about a balanced budget amendment or tax regulation, Paul said, they do have cellphones and care about privacy issues.
Jindal spent much of his time criticizing President Barack Obama, who he said has presided over “the most liberal, most ideologically extreme administration we’ve seen in our lifetimes.”
He denounced what he called a dangerous federal intrusion on religious liberties, citing a lawsuit before the U.S. Supreme Court involving the Hobby Lobby store chain, which has refused to offer coverage of some contraceptives as required by Obama’s health care law.
“One of the most important struggles of our time is to stand up for our First Amendment religious liberty rights,” he said.
Santorum said the Republican message must focus on workers, if the party wants to win national elections. Too often the party talks about cutting taxes on higher income individuals to create growth and cut government benefits for welfare recipients and others to balance the budget, issues that do not resonate with average workers, he said.
“We can win every businessman’s vote and still lose elections by landslides,” he said. “We need workers if we’re going to win and we need to start talking to workers if we’re going to win.”
Santorum ran for president in 2012 and narrowly won Iowa’s leadoff caucuses.
Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, in Des Moines Friday to counter Republican criticisms, said such rhetoric comes as no surprise.
“I think it says the Republican Party has been swallowed by the tea party. If the most conservative member of the House Republican leadership isn’t conservative enough to get his own party’s nomination, then there is no more establishment or mainstream in the Republican Party,” she said, referring to U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s surprise primary loss last week to a tea party-backed challenger. “They’ve been pulled so far to the right that it’s going to cause them deep problems in the general election.”
Members of the party reacted enthusiastically.
The GOP faithful at the convention were enthusiastic about the party’s future.
“I don’t think there’s any problem with the Republican Party and I don’t think there will be any problem with the more conservative side of the party once we get a nominee,” said Ronald Varval, of Newton, an independent contractor who installs internet hardware. “I would rather support a true conservative than someone who is a moderate or middle-of-the-road kind of individual. We’ve had that for years, and that just doesn’t work for us. It’s just not our values.”