By Zeke J Miller
January 24, 2015

More than a half dozen likely Republican president candidates will gather Saturday in Iowa in a bid to earn the support of would-be supporters and caucus-goers at a summit hosted by Iowa Rep. Steve King.

The conservative-geared Iowa Freedom Summit will feature any array of likely candidates, including Sen. Ted Cruz, Gov. Chris Christie, former Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Sen. Rick Santorum, former Gov. Rick Perry, Gov. Scott Walker, Dr. Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina. Also attending will be former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Donald Trump. The event will offer each an opportunity to speak for 20 minutes as they jockey for position one year out from the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses.

All eyes will be on Christie, whose poll numbers and donor support have wavered now that former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush have indicated they are exploring White House bids. Christie is viewed skeptically by many Iowa conservatives who believe he is too moderate.

Neither Romney nor Bush will be attending the event ostensibly on account of scheduling difficulties, but Bush’s support for immigration reform puts him at odds with King, while Romney has been trying to soften his image with Hispanic voters after his call during the 2012 campaign for illegal immigrants to engage in “self-deportation.”

How the more conservative speakers are received will offer an early window into the minds of the party base, which turns out in droves to the caucuses, when faced with a massive Republican field. Huckabee, who won the caucuses in 2008, Santorum, who won them in 2012, are competing for the same voters as Cruz and Carson.

The 2012 cycle proved that early favorites might not be in that position for long, as flavor-of-the-week candidates rose and fell spectacularly in the polls. But the current maneuvering period is critical for would-be campaigns, who are engaged in an arms race for donors and staffers in the decidedly grassroots state.

Iowa Republican operative Tim Albrecht said it’s an opportunity for candidates to distinguish themselves.

“Tomorrow is an important opportunity for candidates to begin to distinguish themselves from others without attacking or mentioning them by name. this is an opportunity to show who is here to share a vision for Americas future vs who is here just for TV cameras.”

King, who holds sway with some Iowa conservatives, came under fire this week for calling a State of the Union guest of First Lady Michelle Obama “a deportable” in a tweet, on account of her being brought to the United States illegally as a child. An avowed

The Democratic opposition research group American Bridge released a video Friday mocking Republican candidates for “bowing to the King,” featuring clips of candidates praising the congressman interspersed with some of his most controversial statements. Democratic Party Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz will be in Iowa Saturday to criticize Republicans for attending King’s event.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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