PELLA, Iowa -- Neither of the two front-runners for the GOP presidential nomination joined five other candidates Tuesday at a forum here at a large agricultural equipment plant on the future of manufacturing in America.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, Texas Congressmen Ron Paul, and former speaker Newt Gingrich spoke at an event organized by the National Association of Manufacturers.
But notably missing from the stage were former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the two candidates with the most extensive business backgrounds, and the two candidates leading in recent polls of potential Iowa caucus-goers.
"It was unfortunate that Gov. Romney and Herman Cain weren't here," Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad told reporters after the event. "They missed out on the opportunity to address the number one issue in this campaign and that is creating jobs."
Over 500 people gathered at Vermeer Manufacturing for the forum, hosted by Branstad and Tom Hudson, a PBS anchor. Perry, who took the stage first, called the Obama Administration "irresponsible" for not using domestic energy.
"We have more energy locked up but recoverable, proven resources, proven reserves than Russia, than Saudi Arabia, then Venezuela, than Iraq all combined yet an administration not letting us use that energy, I happen to think that is irresponsible," Perry told the crowd.
Next was Santorum who said people want "Made in America again" and that America just "needs to beat" China.
"I believe we have to get rid of all tax incentives for all energy. I think we have to have a level playing field," Santorum said.
During Bachmann's turn on stage, she called on the federal government to get off the backs of Americans because it's making the country uncompetitive.
"The federal government hasn’t been helping to reduce costs on business. They’ve only gone the opposite way. They keep burdens on business,” the congresswoman said. "My approach as president of the United States would be to work with business and make their life easier. I want manufacturing to succeed wildly. I don’t want to see manufacturing be the servant to government.”
Paul addressed issues with opening international markets and said he would like Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to announce he's "resigning" tomorrow.
"If you don't look at the regulations, the taxations, the trade policy, and monetary policy, this is going to get much worse," he said.
Gingrich spoke last and proposed attaching "a mandatory training requirement to all unemployment compensation" to help fix skills deficit.
The former speaker drew more laughs and applause from the audience than any of the previous candidates and even went on to call President Obama a "left-wing radical that believes in class warfare."
With just two months before the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, Branstad, who has not decided to endorse a presidential candidate yet, was pleased with the forum.
"I am going to tell you, this thing is a wide-open race and I think the candidates that were here did themselves some good by addressing the issues directly," Branstad said.