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GOP Debate Frustrations Seep Into Iowa Event

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Last night, trick-or-treaters went through their neighborhoods knocking on doors for candy. In Iowa, Republican candidates went looking for votes at a Halloween campaign event. Surrounded by hay bales and pumpkins, presidential hopefuls gave their stump speeches. NPR's Scott Detrow brings us this story.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: None of the candidates dressed in costume, but there were a handful of witch hats and costumes in the crowd at the Iowa State Fairgrounds. The Iowa Republican Party organized the event. And Chairman Jeff Kaufmann was in the Halloween spirit.

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JEFF KAUFMANN: Make sure you see our Democratic house of horrors before you're done. But I want to warn you, it's very, very scary.

DETROW: The haunted house included a TV showing grainy, black-and-white clips of the recent House Benghazi hearing with spooky music playing behind it. You know how on Halloween the kids all target the neighborhood with the reputation for handing out good candy? That's kind of what happened here. The hall was filled with about 2,000 people who really matter, party activists who will definitely show up to caucus and will probably volunteer and organize before then. That's why 10 candidates showed up to speak. But many of the party faithful are still shopping. Loretta Gratton wore stickers for Ben Carson, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, Texas Senator Ted Cruz and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.

LORETTA GRATTON: Until they drop out, I'm for all these. As they drop out, I hope Carson's last.

DETROW: Many of the candidates have very similar stump speeches and platforms. Nearly everyone told the crowd they wanted to simplify the tax code and scale back EPA regulations. And that makes it hard for Republicans like Mary Jo Hartogh to make up their minds. She only had one sticker on, for Carly Fiorina. But, asked about her second choice...

MARY JO HARTOGH: Well, Marco Rubio (laughter) and Jeb Bush and Rand Paul and Chris Christie. Where does it end?

DETROW: One other thing the candidates had in common Saturday, many were still angry about the questions CNBC moderators threw their way during Wednesday's debate.

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CHRIS CHRISTIE: But all they did was ask us about fantasy football, for gosh sakes. You know, why didn't they ask us about jobs?

MIKE HUCKABEE: What a train wreck.

DETROW: That was Christie and Huckabee. They weren't the only ones talking about the debate during their speeches. The fallout from the CNBC debate has become a big deal. The Republican National Committee, which has sanctioned all the debates this election, has suspended a February debate hosted by NBC. And representatives from most of the campaigns will meet today in Washington, without the RNC, to decide what to do about future forums. Cruz offered one solution during his speech.

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TED CRUZ: If you have never voted in a Republican primary in your life, you don't get to moderate a Republican primary debate.

DETROW: But while Christie complained about the debate questions during his speech, he dinged his opponents, like Cruz, for wanting to change the rules. Christie told reporters that if candidates can't handle questions they don't like, they probably wouldn't make good presidents. Scott Detrow, NPR News, Des Moines, Iowa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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