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Trump counter-debate event draws candidates Huckabee, Santorum

"This is like the Academy Awards," Trump said to a crowd of several hundred. "We are told that we have more cameras than they do ... quite a lot."

By Marilyn Malara
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Real estate mogul Donald J. Trump, 2016 Republican presidential candidate, hosted a counter-event Thursday night to compete with the night's Republican Debate. Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum were both in attendance. File Photo by Mike Theiler/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/e1eeb9406a00a254f856b973cb7ecc37/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
Real estate mogul Donald J. Trump, 2016 Republican presidential candidate, hosted a counter-event Thursday night to compete with the night's Republican Debate. Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum were both in attendance. File Photo by Mike Theiler/UPI | License Photo

DES MOINES, Iowa, Jan. 29 (UPI) -- Presidential hopeful Donald Trump took center stage at his own event in Iowa, holding true to his promise to skip the final Republican debate before the crucial Iowa caucus.

The rally, held to honor and discuss the plight of veterans, drew a crowd of 700, including undercard candidates former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

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Trump spoke about veteran's affairs while standing alone as seven of his opponents debated just a handful of miles away.

"You know, my whole theme is make America great again and that's what we're going to do -- and we wouldn't have even been here if it weren't for our vets," he said.

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"Our vets are being mistreated," he continued. "Illegal immigrants are treated better in many cases than our vets and it's not going to happen any more. It's not going to happen anymore."

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The event, at Drake University in Des Moines, was not without the real estate mogul's reoccurring displays of showmanship and blows to on-again, off-again rival, Fox News. The presidential candidate pulled out of the latest GOP debate lineup due to the network's announcement journalist Megyn Kelly would moderate. He and Kelly butted heads the last time Fox News hosted a GOP debate in August.

"Look at all the cameras," he said according to The New York Times. "This is like the Academy Awards. We are told that we have more cameras than they do quite a lot."

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Speaking on why he decided to follow through with his solo boycott, Trump appealed to principle, saying "When you're treated badly, you have to stick up for your rights."

Undercard candidates and former Iowan favorites Huckabee and Santorum were both invited to the event, and accepted recognition at Trump's call.

"I'm supporting another candidate," Santorum reportedly said, showing discomfort being photographed standing behind a podium featuring a Trump campaign sign, "but that doesn't mean we can't work together."

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Trump also mentioned his daughter Ivanka's pregnancy, saying he wants the next member of the Trump family to be born in Iowa.

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"I said, 'Ivanka, it would be great if you had your baby in Iowa,'" the candidate said. "I want that to happen, I want that to happen."

The event reportedly raised $6 million for a list of 22 veterans' organizations, with a million of it coming from Trump himself. The money, funneling through the Donald J. Trump Foundation, is expected to go to American Hero Adventures, Disabled American Veterans Charitable Service Trust, Fisher House Foundation, Folds of honor, Homes for our Troops, Honoring America's Warriors, Hope for the Warriors, K9 for Warriors, Liberty House, Mulberry Street Veterans Shelter, Navy SEAL Foundation, Operation Homefront, Partners for Patriots, Projects for Patriots, Puppy Jake, Racing for Heroes, Support Siouxland Soldiers, Task Force Dagger Foundation, The Green Beret Foundation, Veterans Airlift Command, Warriors for Freedom and 22Kill.

Absent from the recipients list were Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and VoteVets.org, both organizations that said Thursday they would not accept donations from Trump's foundation.

Jon Soltz, an Iraq War veteran and chairman of VoteVets.org, issued a statement calling Trump a loser.

"You're a third-rate politician, who clearly doesn't understand issues and is so scared of Megyn Kelly exposing it, that you're looking to use veterans to protect you from facing her questions," he said.

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Wounded Warriors representatives also said they hadn't been contacted to receive any money from the event.

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