Potential 2016 GOP Hopefuls Flock to Iowa Freedom Summit

Carson, Santorum, Cruz, Perry, Christie, Walker, Huckabee among big names going.

ByABC News
January 23, 2015, 3:09 PM

— -- The date for the first-in-the-nation Iowa could still change, but Republicans are already descending on the key presidential state’s capital this weekend for the Iowa Freedom Summit -- one of the first showcases for prospective 2016 GOP candidates, but definitely not the last.

The summit is hosted by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, whose events have become must-attends for politicians looking to build up credibility with conservative voters in Iowa.

Who’s going?

Many of the most buzzed-about potential Republican White House hopefuls will be at Saturday’s summit at the Hoyt Sherman Place event space in Des Moines, including conservative darling Ben Carson, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Arkansas governor and Fox News star Mike Huckabee.

Who’s not going?

Almost as important as the attendees will be those potential candidates who aren’t hobnobbing with Iowa conservatives this weekend: Mitt Romney, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Why is Steve King so important?

King may have views on issues like immigration that some Republicans find unhelpful -- he infamously tweeted that Michele Obama brought a “deportable” to the State of the Union address -- but he’s fashioned himself a conservative kingmaker who brings with him a slew of caucus voters. King held a similar forum in 2011 and has also hosted many lawmakers at his annual pheasant hunt, including Christie and Cruz. King is branding this event as “a launch point for conservative ideas as we head towards 2016.”

So what exactly is going to happen?

The event starts at 9 a.m., and each guest will appear individually and speak for several minutes. The conversation will, according to the event’s Web page, “focus on how we can get America back on track by focusing on our core conservative principles of pro-growth economics, social conservatism and a strong national defense.” But apparently, there won’t be too much opportunity to meet potential caucus-goers: Citing scheduling constraints, the website said “there will not be an opportunity to interact (shake hands, autographs, etc.) with the featured speakers.”

Is King the only host?

No. The political group Citizens United, which spurred the Supreme Court case that allowed unlimited political spending by corporations and unions, is co-hosting the event with King.

So, is this the start of the 2016 election?

It sure looks like it -- even if none of the attendees have actually declared they’re running for president yet. But attending this event, and kissing the ring of King and his fellow Iowa conservatives, is a clear way for future candidates to start telegraphing their intent and to start trying to secure caucus votes.

ABC's Arlette Saenz contributed to this report.