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GOP 2016 Hopefuls Return To Iowa To Woo Social Conservatives

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A sign welcomes people entering Iowa on the interstate. For use in conjunction with NBC Rock Center piece slated to air Monday, Jan. 2. NBC

Iowa will once again become the center of the Republican presidential campaign this weekend as nearly a dozen candidates or likely candidates return to the state to woo the state’s socially conservative voters.

Saturday is the Faith & Freedom Coalition Conference where nine 2016 hopefuls will speak to a crowd of 1,000 people in Waukee, a town west of Des Moines. The group is committee to socially conservative principles, including their opposition to abortion and same sex marriage.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush will not be in attendance and neither will New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, two of the more moderate politicians in the still-to-be-determined GOP field and whose past positions have been at odds with some of the priorities of the event organizers.

The hosts of the forum and the expected audience are likely to be a natural fit for social conservative candidates Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, both of whom have run for president before and won the Iowa caucuses - in 2008 and 2012 respectively.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who was the first to declare his candidacy, is likely to be a popular speaker as he appeals to both the social and fiscal conservative aspects of the party. Two days before the Iowa forum, Cruz filed a measure in the Senate that would amend the constitution to define marriage between a man and woman. This comes after Cruz appeared at a fundraiser in New York earlier this week hosted by two gay donors where he said he would still love his daughters if they were gay.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who is attempting to appeal to social conservatives, placed an opinion piece in The New York Times Friday aggressively favoring the notion of religious freedom that has emerged in the same sex marriage debate.

"As the fight for religious liberty moves to Louisiana, I have a clear message for any corporation that contemplates bullying our state: Save your breath,” he wrote. As the fight for religious liberty moves to Louisiana, I have a clear message for any corporation that contemplates bullying our state: Save your breath,” Jindal wrote.

These candidates forums, where each speaker talks to the audience for an allotted amount of time, are a way to reach a large amount of people but come with risk. Comparisons between back to back speakers in content and performance can result in a candidate flopping or being overshadowed.

But with risk comes the opportunity for big rewards. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker rose to the top of the polls after the Rep. King forum in January when his energetic speech hit the right tones with the crowd.

Walker in Iowa: It's Time to Make America Great Again 0:44

This is the third presidential forum held this year in the state where voters will be the first to weigh in on the 2016 contest. The first forum was hosted by Iowa Rep. Steve King, an ardent anti-immigration conservative interested in moving those vying for the Republican nomination to the right on the issue. Wealthy entrepreneur and Republican donor, Bruce Rastetter, who is more moderate in his positions, supporting immigration reform, government subsidies for businesses and renewable energy, hosted the second forum.

The speeches start at 5:00 p.m. CST and are expected to wrap up around 9:00 p.m. It’s the ideal Saturday night for politically-engaged Iowans.