"Boy, there are a bunch of us," former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said of the gathering.
Huckabee and former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson said they'd use the chance to stand on the stage with better-known rivals in hopes of gaining more support.
"It gives the voters a chance to sort of scout us out," Huckabee said.
"Nobody is there as a big celebrity with a big check to wave around to say this is how much money I have." The candidates gathered at the Iowa Republican Party's annual Lincoln Dinner in Des Moines, where more that 1,000 activists shell out $75 each. With a spate of receptions and other events, party leaders were keeping quiet about just how much money they would raise.
"It will be a record," said Iowa Republican Party Chairman Ray Hoffman. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was talking far more about running his city after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks than his moderate views on key social issues like abortion.
"This country needs someone who is going to keep us on the offense in the war on terror," said Giuliani. "Right now, what the Democrats are doing in Washington is just to me another indication how they have not properly learned the lesson of Sept. 11. No more defense. From now on we are on the offense in the war on terror." During a stop in Marshalltown, Arizona Sen. John McCain focused on his continued support for the war in Iraq.
"It is a transcendent issue," he said. "It is not an issue for elections, it is an issue for generations." McCain did not compete in Iowa's leadoff precinct caucuses when he sought the nomination in 2000. This year, he said, he'll be able to devote the time to grassroots campaigning. Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney had the tightest schedule, and was scheduled to appear at the dinner only. Other candidates in Iowa Saturday were Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo, former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore and Chicago businessman John Cox. The day's activities included a performance by Huckabee's band Capital Offense at an event in central Iowa. "If they really want to drive the crowd out, they crank us up," Huckabee said. AP-ES-04-14-07 1824EDT