9:04 a.m. and the GOP is starting more or less on time with the patriotic-slash-religious preambles in HyVee Hall. They happen to be facing in the opposite direction than the Democrats were a couple weeks back. The prayer and national anthem go well, but the Pledge kind of eased in and becomes audible somewhere around "to the republic for which it stands."
The hot contest of the day looks to be for the national committee seats. I'm not an expert in the internal politics of the Republican Party of Iowa, but bloggers Krusty, Battleground Iowa and Polk County chair Ted Sporer have been all over it all week.
The female race is between outgoing state Rep. Sandy Greiner and Kim Lehman of Iowa Right To Life. On the male side it's two Steves: incumbent Steve Roberts and challenger Steve Scheffler of the Iowa Christian Alliance. The fight is higher profile than the DNC fight was -- Roberts has full-blown yard signs and they all have stickers like candidates for public (as opposed to party) office. I catch Greiner in the lobby handing out stickers and meeting and greeting; she feels good about her chances.
First fight of the day is a rules issue. National convention delegates are nominated by committee; the dissenters want to be able to nominate from the floor. At first glance the nays have it; they're standing now.
"You must know it's going to be a Democratic year when the Republicans are acting like Democrats," Tiffin mayor Royce Phillips kids me. He says the fight is mostly a matter of who gets to go, but he senss a difference in the convention. "Instead of being about 75 percent conservative like it's been in the past, it's about 55 percent," he estimates, "but we'll see how it goes when the votes get counted." He says "Scheffler has a lot of support."
"The county chairs will count their nos." I myself only have one nose.
Greg Baker, chair of the Iowa College Republicans, is working the lobby. The official platform line is to repeal same day registration, but he's trying to get some $$$ together for campus registration drives. "New same day registration laws will likely turn out young voters in record numbers," reads his pitch, "and the ICFR wants to make sure these numbers are in our favor. Obama currently has an upper hand in the youth vote... (and) failing to respond to the youth movement crisis could greatly jeopardize our ability to win this fall." Greg thinks McCain won't win on campus, but will do better than other Republicans would have and will ultimately keep Iowa in the GOP column. He also thinks Miller-Meeks has some outsider upset potential.
Reagan helps McCain keep some distance from Bush.
There was an extremely long line at the Starbucks stand, putting lie to the "latte drinking liberal" stereotype. David Yepsen is here somewhere; I'll have to bring that to his attention.
I hover near a legislative candidate for a while, but the longer I hover, the more back turning and mouth-covering happens. That's atypical; most people are more than happy to chat.
I catch up with Ted Sporer just as he finishes up with a TV interview. He's one of the leading backers of Lehman and Scheffler for national committee. "Our party needs dramatic change," says Ted. "People are tired of losing." He also prefers the excellent Warren Zevon/Hindu Love Gods version of "Raspberry Beret" to the original.
10 AM and the rules amendment fails, in what's probably one of the key votes of the day. This means the slated delegates likely get elected, and that everyone goes home earlier.
The credentials committee reports attendance by county and at length; the punchline is "we outdid the Democrats."
Speechmaking starts in earnest with RPI chair Stew Iverson. His spin on the presidential race: "who do you trust to be commander in chief?" Yet he touts the down-ballot: "A lot of times it's not the top of the ticket that gets votes out, it's a county race."
Most of the congressional candidates have a visible presence, at least at the sign level, with one exception: I see no anything for 1st CD challenger David Hartsuch.
Grassley is stuck at the airport. Instead we get... STEVE KING! Showtime!
"We can't just defend the constitution when it's easy... we need to defend what it was understood to mean at the time of its ratification." He talks about the English Only law and Spanish voter reg forms at length to significant applause. "Even when we pass laws that defend our values, it doesn't mean they'll be respected."
"We turned out more Republicans to the caucuses than ever before (applause)... but the Democrats turned out twice as many." In praise of McCain: 1) "He is an authentic American hero." 2) "He is a tough and ornery nationalist." The POW stories segue into some John Kerry bashing. Hm. THe idea is: none of McCain's Hanoi Hilton brothers will turn on McCain like the Swift Boaters did on Kerry. "That's the difference between our nominee and the Democrats." Huh? Didn't know the Democrats had nominated Kerry again...
"I see nothing in Obama's background that would see him exposed to patriotism, but he has been exposed to the Harvard School of Law." This leads into the Supreme Court argument. "George Bush got his nominations right in Roberts and Alito. He needed a little help, and McCain will too."
"My nightmare is 357 Ruth Bader Ginsburgs on the federal courts, and 3 or 4 of them on the Supreme Court. Obama will appoint Ruth Bader Ginsburgs, and John McCain will nominate strict constructionists. We are one vote away from overturning Roe vs. Wade. We can chose between 357 Ruth Bader Ginsburgs and 357 John Roberts." They're flashing pictures of Justice Ginsburg, including one of her in front of a menorah.
Not bad red meat, but I've seen Steve feistier.
Now Bob Vander Plaats is introducing Mike Huckabee (who is billed in the program as representing the McCain campaign.) Is this an audition in the veepstakes? Vander Plaats says he was called nuts for backing Huckabee; he says that stands for "Never Underestimate The Spirit." Wonder if that's what Jesse Jackson meant.
The caucus win is mentioned.
Huckabee starts with some reminisces about his campaign and the ephemeral nature of fame and recognition: "If everybody who says they voted for me actually voted for me, I'd be the president by now." Two or three stories would have made the point but he's having too much fun telling the fifth or sixth. The final punch line is "You're Mitt Romney." "If I were Mitt Romney I wouldn't be riding coach."
On to the main course. "I recognize that for many people, their fist choice may not have been the one who ended up with the nomination. But this is not about the candidate, this is about the country. My first choice didn't get the nomination either. I wish he had. But we have a clear fundamental difference between the person our party nominated, and the Democrats."
"As a person who grew up with segregation, I can recognize and affirm that this country has come a long ways since the 50s when it would have been inconceivable for a party to nominate a black American." Some applause, no boos, at his point on progress.
"While I can celebrate Senator Obama for his journey... he has gone far enough." (applause) "It has nothing to do with his color and everything to do with his convictions. We are not electing a president to be a symbolic figure. We are electing a present to deal with missiles in Iran and $5 a gallon fuel." Mike offers to let oil companies drill in his back yard. "If somebody is going to get rich drilling oil, it ought to be Americans."
"We need judges who respect the law and respect marriage." No elaboration, none needed.
"You can't take our firearms and not take our liberties."
Says Obama should go run a business before running the American economy.
"I believe in Senator McCain's record on the issue of life." Acknowledges some grumbling in the GOP on this point. "I became a Republican out of conviction that life begins at conception." Biggest applause yet but quickly topped by "Marriage still means one man, one woman, and nothing else."
"I'm still a strong advocate and supporter of the Fair Tax." (2012? He's mentioning McCain at a polite level, but focusing on base issues instead.) "You can run your family, you can run your business, and you can take care of yourselves, that's the Republican way."
"One cannot separate the economic issues from the most important issue, the moral character of our country."
"If we all lived by the Golden Rule, do unto others, then the legislature wouldn't have to meet but every 100 years or so to say yep, it's still working." All the other laws are because people are treating each other wrong. "The fast pash to less government is making sure we live by a higher moral standard."
In his mythical community of "Hucktown," which has a Pizza Ranch like all Iowa towns, there's no crime, no littering, no drugs, no dropouts, no locks on the doors... because everybody lives by the Golden Rule. (I'm confused... is this Mike Huckabee or Ron Paul?)
"I hope to come back and call my friend Governor Vander Plaats someday." But then he picks on BVP by calling the anti-Hucktown "Bobtown." I would have bet he'd have called it Obamaville, but he never does. Bobtown wants Hucktown to pay more taxes. "When we fail morally, we fail economically, and please don't ask me to leave my convictions at the door."
Paints his rural working class vision of an America of "old Chevys not new Bentleys... high school football games because they can't afford the skyboxes... They know where WalMart is... They watch CMT not MTV... Touched By An Angel and Walker Texas Ranger not Desparate Housewives." Yeah, he worked Chuck Norris in. "Those are my people, those are your people, those are you. The people on the coasts of America have forgotten something. We don't elect a president to solve all our problems, you elect a president to leave us alone to solve our own problems."
"We will get John McCain elected because he best reflects those values" is the conclusion, and one of only a couple mentions of the nominee.
At 11:00 the national committee voting begins. Scheffler is nominated first. The case: Not a lawyer, not a lobbyist, not a RINO (that's Republican in Name Only), and "Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve." Roberts is next and a long-timer; chaired the party in the `70s, national committee since 1988. "He's pro life and pro family regardless of what other people are saying, I won't get into name calling." Only two candidates, as opposed to the ten or so that the Democrats nominated in the corresponding contest.
Now the women. Greiner nominated first. 44 years of activism, 16 years in the legislature where she was "a strong voice for conservative values." (Every speaker seems to have to mention "one man one woman" in and among the laundry list.) "Sandy is a very tough negotiator." Kim Lehman next. "Kim Lehman's Christian worldview dominates her thinking. Every day she works to stop the slaughter of the innocent." Drops the name Iowans for Tax Relief; also apparently a "Choose Life" license plate is a base issue. "Kim believes nothing is politically right if it is morally wrong." The lapel stickers are mis-spelled LEHMAM but everyone gets the point. A third candidate is Linda Kay Harrington -- but all indications are that the real fight is Lehman-Greiner.
Nominations close. It's 50 percent plus one.
Scheffler speaks and the message is clear. "Our party is in dire straits and our leadership has failed us." "I will unite our party around our platform" (significantly, not "around our nominee.") Says he is a choice for a uniform agenda with tough position vs, "Status quo appeasement" and bashes Republicans for Choice, Log Cabin Republicans, etc. Bashes his opposition for negative robocalls.
Roberts responds: "Steve Scheffler has been called many things, but never a moderate." He bases his case on experience. "Advocating for issues is not the principal job of the Republican national committee" -- that's the grass roots' job. "The RNC is designed to run the nomination process and elect the nominee." "My loyalties are not divided, my first priority will always be the party." A valedictory note: "If you choose my opponent, I leave with my head held high."
The process is at issue. Roberts says he fought to stay first; Schiffler says he played a key role in selecting Jan. 3.
11:23 and Greiner speaks. "My years in the legislature I learned to work with people I don't neccessarily agree with." Priority is keeping First In The Nation. "This is economic development for Iowa and many people want to take that away from us." Pledge to listen to all factions of the party. "I won't air party laundry in public. If a team doesn't work together, it cannot and will not win anything." Says every House member has endorsed her (she was handing out a flyer with the signatures earlier). "We have to bring this party back together. Our issues do not come to the floor unless we're in the majority."
Lehman: "Not only am I pro-life and pro-family, but I want to push my agenda and make sure the Republican Party platform stays Republican." Has no qualms with unity -- but redefines unity. "There's been talk that we need to be quiet and not talk about these pro-life pro-family issues. I am a right-wing, platform loving Republican." Denies rumors that she won't be endorsing McCain, and then does so. "We can't affort Obama to take the presidency while we don't have the House and Senate. This country can't afford more socialism."
"We need another judge." Doesn't specify any particular January 1973 ruling, but everyone gets it. "We'll never have a perfect candidate... that is, unless Jesus decides to run." Lists her priorities as "God, then family, then country, then the Republican party" in ranked order.
The third candidate worked for John Cox for President. She's also running a Fair Tax platform amendment. I think this is a non-factor, but this national committee battle looks interesting... Krusty reports getting bashed for decribing it as "inside vs. outside" but that's kind of how it smells, with a dollop of religious right. While the delegates were chosen independently of presidential preference, remember that they were chosen in a process that began on the night that Mike Huckabee won.
11:41 and voting is beginning, with a couple credentials scraps on the eligibility of alternates. A very different national committee process than the Democrats. They got about one minute of speech each, barely enoigh for an introduction -- but there were about ten candidates for each slot, many of whom were not especially... plausible. The nomination process must be tighter in the GOP.
High noon and David Vaudt is speaking, what sounds like his standard "Dems overspending" speech. State house candidate Jarad Klein, who's running for Greiner's old seat, thinks her experience message is good but says there's a geographic element as well: "She's got to beat Polk County people." And as in any convention, the geographically near are over-represented. Not sure if the vote is weighted in any way to account for that.
Someone passes by the press table handing out Chick comics -- you know, those oblong miniature comic books that you can buy in bulk with an over-the-top hellfire Come To Jesus message.
At 12:17 we have Miller-Meeks. "Isn't Steve King a great congressman?" she thanks him for the his intro. "Dave Loebsack is walking in lockstep with Nancy Pelosi." "The way to defeat Loebsack is to give voters what they want: someone sincere, hard working, a real Republican who will look toward the future."
"I may be a little vertically challenged," (I've never said it before, but since she raised it the doctor is rather diminutive) "but I will stand tall and work hard on the issues that are important to Republicans and hard working Iowans."
Indicts Democratic majority and says "On the issues, Loebsack is on the wrong side and the wrong track." Thus the nickname "Wrong Track Loebsack." Health care reference to "personal responsibility" draws applause. Refers to "Social Insecurity."
My initial thought as to why so few candidates ran for the national committee posts was all wrong. I had guessed it was a higher nomination threshold than the 25 signatures that Democrats want. But no, you simply have to be nominated by someone. And yet, even with what looks like a divisive situation, there were only two men and three women running. So now I'm thinking it's more a matter of organizational culture.
As of 12:30 they break for lunch. The votes are not yet counted so folks will dine while the rules and credentials types work furiously. But our own Jason Hancock will bring you the results. He's one of the last press here. The Gazette's James Lynch is still working but most of the rest went with the Huckabee lede and vamoosed. (The root word of vamoose is the Spanish vamos, so I should be careful -- Steve King is still here.) As for me, I have a nephew with a first birthday, so signing off.
Another difference: Republicans announce actual vote totals. (Kinda like the caucuses.) About 60 votes difference between Sheffler and Lehman on the one hand and Roberts and Greiner on the other, but still very similar margins. Possible difference: Roberts was an incumbent but the female seat was open. Also, there was that third woman who drew a few votes.