02:01 - Source: CNN
Big boost for Rubio, setback for Bush

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GOP candidates make Halloween appearances in Iowa

They're still unhappy with CNBC debate

(CNN) —  

It was a full-blown Ye Grand Ole Halloween Party at the Iowa State Fair Grounds, complete with cornstalks to hide unsightly beams and bowls of candy and cookies for the first-ever Iowa GOP “Growth and Opportunity Party. “

Though there were few Halloween costumes, 10 Republican presidential candidates and their Iowa state teams brought out all the bells and whistles for the family gathering in Des Moines at midday Saturday.

One of the first speakers of the day, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, railed against CNBC and Wednesday’s debate format for more than six minutes during the opening of his stump speech. “I did think it was fitting the debate occurred the week of Halloween because the moderators were doing everything they could to ask every candidate ‘Are you more of ghoul or a goblin?’” said Cruz.

The junior senator was mobbed by a crowd afterward as made his way over to his decorated booth, which paled in comparison to the adjacent football-themed booth for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

While he signed posters and took selfies with supporters, Cruz spoke to a crushed press corps in even more detail about the CNBC debate, going as far as to say that he thinks that primary debates should be moderated by openly partisan media outlets.

“It is in the interest of Republican primary voters to have a debate moderated by people who will actually vote in a Republican primary.” This format, he believes, would best benefit voters. “It conserves the purpose of helping the voters make a decision.”

There were also some tongue-in-cheek references to the dissonance amongst candidates, and the fact that discontent surrounding the debate has been a uniting factor between camps.

“CNBC, I want to give them credit, they did something I wasn’t sure anybody can do,” said former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee while on stage. “They actually have brought all of the Republican candidates together in a complete agreement that we won’t do any more debates on NBC if they’re going to run them like that.”

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who participated in the “undercard” debate, holds a more laissez-faire view of the process. He told the press after his speech that the most important thing that campaigns can do now is to take control away from the Republican National Committee, the networks and the mainstream media. “We’re supposed to be the free-market party. Let’s actually act like it. Let’s get away from this top-down planning,” said Jindal.

Jindal echoed a sentiment that’s been vocalized loudly by former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley on the other side of the aisle in the primary process: let’s have more debates. “I think it was a mistake to limit debates and a mistake to limit the number of people who can be in those debates.” He did not miss the chance to hit the Democratic party, adding that the Democrats are “making a mistake” by coronating Hillary Clinton.

Warm-blooded Florida politicians Rubio and Jeb Bush hardly made news during their main stage speeches Saturday, though Bush acknowledged his floundering poll numbers right off the top of his speech in a moment that seemed to fulfill the “candid” Jeb that his campaign is reimagining the former governor as.

“You know, poll numbers go up and they go down. Iowa proves that in every caucus. And when they go down, you don’t insult Iowa voters, because they’re the same discerning voters when your polls are going up or going down. You learn from Iowa voters, so it is a joy to be here.”

Bush was making a not-so-subtle jab at Donald Trump, who had retweeted harsh criticism of Iowa voters after his poll numbers in the state began to drop. Trump later blamed the tweeting mishap on an intern.

Bush’s declared enthusiasm for campaigning in Iowa conflicts with an internal strategy memo from his team that was leaked last week; it showed a strong push for Bush in New Hampshire and South Carolina, leaving Iowa tertiary in his primary state strategy.

CNN’s Sunlen Serfaty spoke with Bush supporters at the event. Don Pugsley said he’s not worried about the recent tumult in Bushland. “I have seen Jeb Bush in front of 20 people, in front of 40 people, in front of 400 people and he’s really glib and articulate. He gets in front of the camera and he gets a little tongue tied I think. So you know through the prism of the TV you might have questions about him. But if you see him up close and personal all those questions are answered in the positive I think.”

Trump and Ben Carson, both center stage at the debate earlier in the week, were not in attendance at the event, though attendees left laden with swag and stickers from both campaigns.

CNN’s Sunlen Serfaty contributed to this report.