Mitt Romney: Muscatine Liveblog
4:15 and greetings from the Rendezvous in Muscatine, where Mitt Romney is reportedly 15 minutes away -- they say he likes to stay on time.
We have a large flag backdrop, probably seven or eight feet tall -- now "Born In The USA" is stuck in my head. No music yet -- the early arrivals are trickling in, TV folks are setting up, and my Iowa Independent partner in crime Tom Lindsay is checking in with the rank and file.
4:29 and the room is filling up and the hustle is bustling. A staffer with an earpiece who could almost pass for Secret Service is getting the TV cameras lined up, making sure they're positioned for The Shot of Mitt in front of flag.
I catch up with John and Sue Hatfield and Debbie Hendricks, all of Muscatine, in the front row. Sue and Debbie say the blueberry pie is wonderful; John is abstaining from pie.
All say they're uncommitted. Debbie says, "Well, I'm definitely voting Republican." John says he likes how Romney turned around the 2002 Olympics post-scandal. What's the most important issue? Almost in unison, all thre say "Immigration." John has a few choice words for the Administration plan: "I don't even like to say Buuuuush." Debbie: "Oh, be careful, you might get in a fight here," and all chuckle. I ask John what to do about those already here: "How many bus companies do we have?" Debbie adds, "take away the entitlements and part of the problem will take care of itself.
4:39. State Senator Jim Hahn (R-Muscatine) is here; says he's been on board with Romney for a long time. "I like his background, his family style." I ask if that's a reference to some rivals who've had more turbulent family lives. "Well, he's a family man, and a husband and a wife... that makes up the nucleus of a family." Hahn also cite's Romney's experience in Massachusetts and (again) the Olympics; "that's the kind of experience we need in Washington." He moves on to greet more arrivals.
They're not stickering or nametagging here, and no music; apparantly Ask Mitt Anything is more Serious Time than Rally Time.
Room holds 150 or so, full and standing room. Unexpected, or the old plan of book a room just a little too small so it looks full (everyone does it)?
4:51. Last event of the day so perhaps even Team Romney is running a little late. Crowd's a little older than an Iowa City crowd, just demographics at work. Overheard a couple folks saying they're from across the river in Illinois. Three TV crews, plus two that look to be from the campaign. The pie has been put away.
4:55. Stage is very well lit, with eight foot tall portable lighting. The wall signs have different color schemes -- mostly blue and white, but some versions have a bit of red. The pledge cards, carefully set on every chair with little golf pencils, are bright orange. Hubbub is diminishing just a little as the crowd settles in. This is in an in the round format but a couple angles only have two or three rows.
4:57 Hahn starts the program with pledge of allegiance. Muscatine County Treasurer Jerry Coffmann pushed the pledge cards, makes a reference to Mitt "not abandoning us" with the straw poll.
5:00 Showtime. Ann Romney jokes about a stage collapse in northeast Iowa: "I fell on da butt in Dubuque." She then proceeds to introing. Focusing on family life on Dad Day. Then moves on to Olympics; "Changed our directiion and put us on a path to public service" (no mention of that previous `94 race.) Intro gioes long enough that Mitt makes "I'll sit down" joke and then does.
5:02 Mitt begins, has already made two straw poll references. "That IS part of the process of choosing a nominee." Names Rudy and McCain.
Talks about a relative who lived in Muscatine in his youth, assorted other Iowa ties. "The most important work in America goes on in the four walls of the family home." Emphasizes marriage again. Talks about family gift of `62 Rambler which lets him reference his father's career, and the old car story becomes "In the private sector things get better." "I went from that world into government" gets chuckles from GOP crowd and allows him to riff. "We're spending too much in Washington"gets first applause. "And we're using too much oil." Wants to invest in energy independence. Ethanol, biomass, liquid coal, nuke, more drilling in ANWR.
5:10 Inner city schools "the civil right issue of our era." Health care and portability and preexisting. "The Democrats have their answer: Socialized medicine Hillary care is not the answer." Big applause. Cites Mass. program and private sector.
Immigration. "I want to stop illegal" gets interrupted with "yes"s.
Radical Islam: Wants collapse of West and USA. Praise for troops gets usual applause. Need 100,000 more in military. "Ultimately moderate Muslims themselves who need to reject."
"Democrats turn to government, that's not the source of our strength." Quotes Reagad on liberals. "Source of our strength is the Am. people. God fearing people who'll sacrifice for freedon. Don't grow government, grow the American people." And the key is strengthening homes "Helps if kids start off with a mom and a dad" applause. "You get your education, then you fall in love and get married, THEN you have babies."
5:18 and moving into questions. Acts surprised that "there are mikes everywhere."
First question is a blast from the past: a notch baby!
"It just doesn't seem fair, does it? I'll take a look at it, I'll be happy to get your perspective." Dems try to scare you about Social Security, we're not going to touch it. But we need to look at reform down the road. But seniors now "don't let people scare you." Audience member says notch bill "has been languishing 5 years."
5:21 A cap on emissions, it's Mike Carberry from Iowa Global Warming!
"I have not put a position paper out yet."
"It's not America warming it's global warming, and caps need to be on a global basis." Ye's we're number one now but China will pass us in 2 years. "No regrets Policy" is energy independence. Repeats energy sources, biomass, ethanol, nukes.
5:23 a coach asks about nuke power. Mitt: 1) streamline licensing process. "It's been so long we might have to ask the French how to do it." Invest in fuel reprocessing tech.
5:25 "What do you truly believe about abortion". Mitt: "If you go from being life to choice, the media says congratulations." I changed like Reagan, Hyde, etc. When I became governor, the rhetoric became reality. "Embryo Cloning and Embryo Farming" came up in Massachusetts and I said "this is wrong" and I vetoed. Reagan mentioned again, applause.
5:27 A softball: "give us a resume of your executive experience" with much praise from the questioner. Mitt wants to take the guy everywhere. "I want a person with compassion, who believes in family values. Secondly, I want a person with experience in running things. There are people running for president who've never run a corner store." "I acquired Domino's Pizza -- not by the slice, the whole company." Moves into Olympics, governor. "What I've learned in managing is the key is bringing good people together. Look at who people have been associated with."
5:31 Mitt: `86 bill was amnesty but border security and verification. "We got the amnesty, but not the security." The new bill has good security provisions and verification provisions. But I don't like the Z visa. "Everyone here illegally gets to stay here the rest of their life and that's unfair. Get in line with everyone else but no special deal" gets big applause.
5:33 The wifi dies briefly during returning disabled vets. The guy talks fast.16 wounded troops for every death in combat. Calls for increase in vet spending.
5:35 Should we give people in Gitmo due process? Mitt: "I've been there, it's a fine prison facility." "We don't want them having the kinds of legal rights associated with being on US soil." It depends on the circumstances what their rights should be. We didn't give German POWs in WW2 lawyers.
5:37 What's happening to the money in Iraq, and "how's it so easy for those foreigners to get lawyers, when it's hard for a black man like myself to get a lawyer, and what about racist judges, should they go to prison?"
Mitt: We didn't lose the war to replace Saddam, but reconstruction has been tough and expensive. "I don't think we planned on being there this long." I hope surge works. I want a task force to look at military spending, to make sure we don't get fleeced by contractors (applause) because that's how private sector works. "I want to see judges who follow the law, not legislate the law." Cites Chief Justice Roberts: A judge is an umpire not a ballplayer.
5:42 last question: "my first priority is what we're going to with terrorists and Iran. At what point does the US use force on Iran? All the politicians say 'nothings off the table' and i want more."
Mitt: No one wants to say "if they do this then we bomb `em." What Iran has already done is of the nature that would allow us to respond if we chose. We want to tighten sanctions, but we need to evaluate military options - such as embargo, blockade. "No price of oil justifies a nuclear Iran." I want to sit down with generals and look at specifics. Rips on Edwards "no war on terror." We need strong military and support for moderate Muslims. Drops in the mittromney.com url.
5:47 winding down. "What were talking about relates to the nature and mission of America over the coming years." America is a unique nation. Strong military, strong economy, strong families.
Coffmann makes the pledge card and straw poll pitch again, and "the governor will be shaking hands at the entrance."
6:02. Don Barko of Muscatine says he's "probably" decided on Romney. "He's probably the most qualified. I'm not looking for small ideas, I'm more interested in the big picture." Don says the most important issue is "protecting our shores, both in terms of immigration and terrorism." Asked what can be done about illegal immigrants already here, he pauses thoughtfully and says "I'm not sure, there's smarter people than me trying to figure that out."
Regina Day sees our interview underway and has an important point to make: "People don't get off their duff when they ask the Governor a question! Stand up, show some respect." Don offers the though that some folks may not be comfortable or have difficulty standing. He continues, calling himself a fiscal conservative: "Ronald Reagan would pick out three objectives and work on them. The governor is right, a good executive surrounds himself with good people."
Is President Bush doing that? Thoughtful pause: "I think so... some of them are a bit recycled from his dad... I think so."