Mosley says "Caucus will be the 3rd."
6:26 and John McCain has arrived at a Johnson County GOP fundraiser. A sizable percentage of the crowd is in the Reagan Club reception, where McCain is working the room. (A man at the door spotted my camera and deftly swung the door shut. Lost opportunity.)
Pre-arrival, locals were posing for pics in front of the famous Straight Talk Express bus. Jared Klein of rural Keota, Republican candidate in open House District 89, was getting to know folks on the north end of his district.
"Republicans gonna take back the House?"
"That'd be great, wouldn't it?"
Klein is younger than the typical candidate at 26, but certainly wouldn't be the youngest legislator. He's sporting a McCain sticker, but that's just for the event and not an endorsement.
Cathy Grawe, ex-county chair, loyally works the sign-in table while McCain is in the reception. She's got no more idea on the caucus date than anyone else does.
The press corps appears significantly smaller than last time I saw McCain in May. Young, local, print and radio.
6:51. State party co-chair Leon Mosley is working the room. He's bound by position to stay neutral but says "I'm supporting everybody." Then, in seeming reference to last night's debate, he adds, "I'm going to demand that everybody endorse the winner. If they don't want to be team players, we've got a rough row to hoe. We neeed loyalty, love, and learning."
Mosley is firm about the caucus date: "I'm sure it'll be the 3rd. It'll help us stay first in the nation, to me that's the most important thing." Are the Republicans and Democrats working together on the date? "If they work with us, it'll be the 3rd."
A quick peek in the Reagan Club room as people trickle out shows McCain posing for the photo op, in clusters of two to four. Seems more orderly than the shove and scrum one sees at Democratic events.
McCain, Iowa House candidate Jared Klein, and Leon Mosley pledging allegiance.
McCain enters the main room right on time, briefly working the tables -- 11 tables, eight at each, mostly full. He sits next to Mosley at the table with the Boy Scouts who do the Pledge of Allegiance and national anthem. Mosley leads an invocation that calls the GOP to a higher calling and ends with a Lord's Prayer.
City Council member Dee Vanderhoef arrives late, the night after a fourth place finish in the Iowa City primary.
No rally music, a low key atmosphere as county McCain chair Bob Anderson intros McCain. It feels like they're greeting an elder statesman.
7:17. As this is billed as the Reagan Dinner, McCain is continuing a long introduction, touching on his experiences with Reagan and his own POW experiences. From the content of this speech thus far there is no evidence that this man is running for any office at all. Only an allusion to "that's the kind of integrity we need in a President of the United States today," which is taken as an applause line.
"If you're ever unfortunate enough to be in California," (laughter) visit the Reagan library.
Talks about "making the tough choices" and references Truman and Korea. Finally, 15 minutes in, it is starting to sound like a campaign speech.
Makes the Young Republicans stand up and says Social Security and Medicare are broken. Talking about tax and spend.
Supporting Bush on SCHIP. "Only in Washington is $5 billion a small amount of money." Mocks the funding: "We're going to give health insurance to kids and tell them to smoke." GOP will negotiate more money... but sounds like he wants the tobacco off the table.
GOP lost `06 because of spending (and, sort of, the war). At this point it sounds like standard stump.
He's launching the health care plan tomorrow. "We cannot have a single payer big government health care system like Senator Clinton and her friends are proposing." That gets some applause, despite the accuracy issue (only Kucinich is for single payer).
On to the war: "A date for withdrawal would have been a date for surrender." Petraus gave a great performance that made Americans give it some more time (gets applause). And that's what made the leading Dems back off till 2013.
"The surge is succeeding." There are enormous problems, but we are succeeding. Bashes Columbia U despite his daughter's degree (she's here), in part for Ahmedinijad but also, to greater impact, for barring ROTC>
Acknowledges Bush handled war badly, but argues that the present strategy is working and he was the only one who argued for it. "Has this hurt my chances to be president? That may well be." But: (launches into story)... mom of killed soldier says "promise me you'll do everything you can to see that my son's death was not in vain."
(And that story captures a whole world view, that of the still loyal to Bush 30% or so.)
Q & A. Reducing foreign oil use. McCain starts by bashing Chavez, Ahmedinijad and Putin, as a way of acknowledging the need. Repeats the "glass of ethanol with Chuck Grassley" joke. Doesn't support subsidies, ethanol can compete. Nuclear power a key element. Americans will buy electric cars if they're more user friendly. Global warming is real.
Cathy Grawe asks about protection of intellectual property. "Yes I would." I'd take China to WTO and bring suit.
The Second Amendment: that's a gimme.
He wraps. "America is a right of center nation, we are a right of center party." Plays the Supreme Court card. "I will appoint only justices who strictly interpret the Constitution."
Media time. Says statistically he's been to Iowa more than other candidates. Asked why he talked more about Reagan than Bush, "I thought I had praised President Bush."
Argues that the line item veto is not unconstitutional, but that the 1995 version was written incorrectly. (This is in contradiction to Giuliani in the debate last night.)
Focus shifts to the war, the war and the war. Asked if Iraqis are doing enough, says they are sacrificing their lives every day. Asked about the link between GOP overspending and the war, argues that "national defense is the highest priority" and defends his own record against pork-barreling. As for the Blackwater contractors, the real problem is "Rumsfeld didn't have enough troops on the ground" and defends the surge again. Asked to define success, "when the Iraqi military can take over." McCain's not sure how long that would take, but he's sure the American public will see the progress.
By 8:00 McCain is gone, after autographing some books, and the forks are clinking on plates.