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Potential 2016 candidates road test messages on immigration, marriage

With less than two years until the next president is elected, more and more prominent Republicans are inching toward formally declaring their candidacy.

"I think it's pretty evident that I'm moving in that direction," former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday. "I've always said that my timetable is sometime later in the spring and that still is the timetable today."

On ABC's "This Week," Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said a presidential bid is something "I'm seriously looking at." And former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who finished behind GOP nominee Mitt Romney during the 2012 cycle, said on CNN's "State of the Union," "I think things will work itself out if we decide to get into this race."

Republicans flock to Iowa as 2016 campaign accelerates 09:13

A summit in Iowa this weekend served as the unofficial kickoff to the 2016 race. Huckabee and Santorum both spoke in the state that holds the first nominating contest, although there were some notable absences, especially Romney, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and Jindal, who hosted a prayer rally in his home state.

The would-be candidates are increasingly crafting the messages they could use during a 2016 campaign on issues like immigration and same-sex marriage.

"If I do decide to run I think this country, I think our nation, needs leaders who have the courage to speak the truth to us. And unfortunately we don't have that right now," Jindal said. "I'll give you an example: Earlier this week I gave a speech in London where I talked about the threats of radical Islamic terrorism. I know it made a lot of people upset, but we need leaders to tell us the truth. For example, people coming to our country need to integrate, need to assimilate."

Huckabee faced questions about a bill he supported while governor that would have allowed undocumented immigrants to receive in-state tuition, a position is not popular with much of the GOP base. It got former Texas Gov. Rick Perry into trouble in 2012, when he said his fellow candidates who did not support a similar law in Texas didn't "have a heart".

"You don't punish your child for something his parents did," Huckabee said, reiterating his support for the legislation. "I want to get control of the borders. I want to make sure that we have a better handle on immigration. It's totally out of control. But I don't know that we've ever been a nation that said if you're in the backseat of your car when your dad is speeding, we're going to charge you in the backseat for what your dad did up in the front seat."

That doesn't mean he believes President Obama had the authority to defer deportation for immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children in 2012. "He didn't have the authority to do it," Huckabee said. "We have a thing called a constitution. And the Constitution doesn't allow the chief executive just to make up law."

Santorum is trying to position himself as the candidate of the American worker if he runs in 2016.

"There are are changes to our immigration laws that need to be made that focus the immigration policies on where we need certain skills or certain people to come to this country to help gin up and encourage our economy," Santorum said. "But, unfortunately, the current legal immigration system is not that. We bring a little over a million people a year into this country on average over the past 20 years. And most, the overwhelming majority are folks who are lower-skilled or unskilled. And as a result of that, they are filling up a labor pool where, as you know...there's not a booming growth of unskilled labor jobs in this country. And we're bringing people in who will compete against a lot of American workers."

Santorum said the record levels of legal immigration are the reason that median income is dropping and wages are stagnating. He said the last time there was a big surge in immigration levels during the late 1800s and early 1900s, Congress responded by passing immigration bills in 1921 and 1924 that sought to cap the number of immigrants coming to the U.S. (The 1924 law completely excluded any immigrant from Asia).

"They put politics aside and they did what was best for the American worker," Santorum said.

Candidates are also tackling the issue of same-sex marriage, which the Supreme Court is set to consider this year. Many Republicans have expressed their opposition to the issue being decided by the courts, which is happening across the country.

Supreme Court to rule on same-sex marriage 02:23

"I'm advocating an adherence to the Constitution," said Huckabee, who said last week on Hugh Hewitt's radio show that same-sex marriage would only be legal in states that passed a law making it so regardless of what the Court says. "I'm really saying that there is a process to change the law. And it doesn't just involve one unilateral branch of government...The courts can't make a law. They can interpret one, they can invalidate one. But even then, as in the case of the Dredd Scott decision in 1857 that said black people weren't human beings, Abraham Lincoln refused to adhere to that because he said it wasn't a just law."

Jindal, for his part, reiterated his believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, and took a shot at those politicians who have changed their stance on the issue.

"I know that many politicians are evolving, so-called evolving on this issue based on the polls. I don't change my views based on the polls," Jindal said.

He noted that Louisiana has a law defining marriage as being between a man and a woman, and said that if the court handed down a ruling that invalidated it, he would urge lawmakers in Washington, D.C. to pass a constitutional amendment that allowed states to continue defining marriage.

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