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In Iowa, pigs and hogs galore for GOP presidential hopefuls

BOONE, Iowa -- Seven of the declared and potential Republican candidates running for president in 2016 descended on Iowa Saturday for Sen. Jodi Ernst's inaugural "Roast and Ride," a fundraiser for her super PAC that also raised money for The America's Fund, an organization to support injured and sick members of the U.S. military.

"I think it's important that they participate in one way or another," Ernst, R-Iowa, explained to gaggle of more than a dozen reporters, referring to the importance of visiting Iowa for 2016 hopefuls.

Dressed in jeans, a bright red t-shirt, a leather vest and motorcycle boots at the Big Barn Harley-Davidson in Des Moines, Ernst then hopped on a Harley-Davidson alongside Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to drive home her point.

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With more than 300 motorcyclists in tow, Ernst and Walker took a 38-mile ride from Des Moines to Boone where they met a larger group for some local Iowan delicatessen: pig.

"We are just here to have some fun," Walker said, avoiding conclusions that he is yet a 2016 candidate.

But when he arrived at the Central Iowa Expo, Boone IA -- also the location of the Iowa Straw Poll which will take place in August -- Walker took to the crowds.

"I think that's our next President," said Kevin Mankin, a Walker fan who is a business owner in Earlham, adding that he valued Walker's Midwestern values.

This sentiment gels with a recent Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll of likely Iowan caucus-goers which showed Walker in first place, with 17 percent saying that they would support him.

Former Gov. Rick Perry, R-Texas, who declared his candidacy for the GOP nomination earlier this week, was the first of the 2016 hopefuls to address the crowd, thanking veterans for their service and highlighting his own experience as a pilot in the Air Force.

2016 Republican presidential candidates gather in Iowa

Perry took a different route to the roast, traveling with group of veterans from the town of Perry. In addition to Walker, he was the only other 2016 contender to arrive on two shiny wheels -- ones that he had borrowed from an injured vet.

Walker, who was next on stage, also honed in on the importance of commemorating veterans and thanked Ernst for welcoming the group to Iowa.

"I love a senator who knows how to castrate a pig, ride a hog, and cut the pork from Washington, D.C.," Walker joked.

After a local parade in which she rode a tractor, Carly Fiorina renewed her attacks on Hillary Clinton.

"I would be tempted to ask if Hillary has ever been on a John Deere tractor," she said. Fiorina also dove into foreign affairs, explaining that her first two calls from the Oval Office would be to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to express U.S. support for Israel, and to Iran's supreme leader, to threaten sanctions if inspectors were not allowed into all of the country's military sites.

The audience remained engaged throughout the speeches of South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, Dr. Ben Carson, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

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Some riders were simply at the event to ride their Harley. Chuck Hoveland, a Vietnam War veteran who rode a few bikes away from Ernst and Walker, said it is a "wee bit early" to start making a decision about which GOP contender he will support in 2016.

Other attendees had several favorites. A man who was a fervent Romney supporter in 2012 said he was waiting to hear from Graham and Carson. A gaggle of female Iowans wearing Ben Carson pins took photos with Fiorina.

This may have been the first "Roast and Ride" -- intended to be Ernst's version of the yearly steak fry fundraisers held by former Sen. Tom Harkin, her Democratic predecessor -- but these candidates will be coming back to Iowa. The question is, when?

The Iowa Straw Poll in August is seen as the next big cattle-call in Iowa -- although several candidates, including Huckabee, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Graham, have declared that they will not compete.

Ernst underscored her support for the Straw Poll, calling it the "first real poll in Iowa of actual voters." Walker would not commit either way.

"Should we be a candidate, we'll be in Iowa quite a bit," Walker said. "Whether or not the Straw Poll is a part of that obviously remains to be seen, once we make a decision."

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