GOPalooza In Tiffin
Santorum: "It'd be great to be in the top half" at Ames
Four candidates who combine for maybe 10 percent in polls -- Thaddeus McCotter, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Tim Pawlenty -- blogged pseudo-live from a wifi-less Clear Creek Amana High in Tiffin, where a six-county group of Republicans are hosting a cattle call style fundraiser.
5:00 and Longhorn Orange AMERICANS FOR RICK PERRY shirts are significantly mixed in the crowd.
Just past the entrance Thaddeus McCotter, in a light blue Munsingwear shirt, is casually chatting with folks. I wait briefly for my turn and get introduced by Chris Rants, who says he got on Team Thad a month or so back. I noted that the the state party had seemed surpised when McCotter bid on straw poll space but rants corrected me. "The RPI wasn't surprised but the other candidates were."
Jeff Kaufmann (on Team Newt), Thaddeus McCotter
So, Thad, what's the soundbite Why Should You Be President? "I want to affirm American exceptionalism. We're a great nation and need to stay that way." He mentions polls so I bring up the elephant in the room (actually there are a lot of them in this room) of his asterisk status. "People will get behind the message, or not." Pretty casual. He's actually going back to New Hampshire this week before coming back for Ames. I ask about the debt ceiling vote, realizing with embarrassment as I do that I haven't even bothered to remember which way he voted. It was yes. "The possibility of default was just devastating. I think the president saw it that way too. It was an imperfect bill from everyone's perspective."
A man hands me a card reading
PRESIDENT IN 2012
It's The Man himself. I politely chat; he's from De Pere Wisconsin and we discuss the Packers. The rest of the press corps tries to avoid.
A few legislators spotted: Sandy Greiner, Jeff Kaufmann, and Jarad Klein. While I'm interviewing Klein, the hosts move the print blog and radio press corps to a table that's smaller and, um, cozier to make space for Republicans. We hastily gather up our excessive power bricks and audio recorders and shift positions.
5:48 and Newt and Santorum are on site, visiting with the crowd and the TV folks.
A Reagan poster decorates the podium. Press table consensus is 300 to 400 on hand.
5:58 and I chat with Rick Santorum after re-introducing myself to two of the teenage kids who I met at the county fair mock election. He's got the 30 second sound bite down cold and delivers it personably: "I'm a candidate who's an authentic conservative, who's been there and stood tall when things are tough. None of the other candidates have beaten a Republican incumbent or won in a tough state." The expectation bar? "It'd be great to be in the top half. They say there's three tickets out of Iowa, and the top four or five in Ames can become the top three or four."
Karen and Rick Santorum
Patriotic rituals right on schedule: one woman near the back oversings the national anthem a bit. The prayer focuses on "national pride and civility" and restoring America to "a generation ago" (again, note Ronnie on the podium) It ends "in Jesus' name." Perhaps they are addressing religious diversity by serving beef (Johnson County Cattlemen) instead of pork.
Tiffin Burgermeister Royce Phillips warms the crowd up, followed by Jeff Kaufmann of the House leadership. "There are hundreds of strong Republicans here in the middle of Johnson County (applause) That doesn't mean we aren't going to get along with our Democratic colleagues. It means We are going to stand up for our principles wherever we are in the state."
Kaufmann introduces the other state dignitaries including Ag secretary Bill Northey, Senators Jim Hahn and Tim Kapucian, and recently announced Senate candidate Larry Kruse.
6:17 and McCotter is on. TPaw not spotted yet. Audio is low. The orange Perry shirts outnumber a handful of blue Romney shirts that look like staffers.
McCotter: "You as Republicans are the heirs of Lincoln and Reagan. You are the heirs of the party that defeated stagflation and an evil empire." Speech is VERY low key: slow, soft spoken, pauses about every fourth word except for brief bursts of ten in a row. I'm still not sure what the pitch is.
Finally he outlines a four point list of "challenges." "Big government. Must start to. Mirror and reflect. Thechallengeswefaceinourdaytodaylives."
"We continue to see Lyndon Johnson's welfare state close in around us because the Democratic party refuses to let go of the past." Obama: "Jimmy Carter in a better suit." (Newt later corrects him: "Jimmy Carter had nice suits.") The pitch is: cutting big government down to size. So nothing unique. But "We must force the big Wall Street banks to restructure." Now he starts to show something a bit unusual (other than speaking style).
Foreign policy: "Our dear ally Israel must never be pressured by the United States into indefensible borders." Now on to the "73.9 card carrying members of the Chinese Commuinist Party." So he's the anti-bankster anti-Commie guy. Still, I think he works better as a position paper. Or as a speechwriter for someone else. Still he gets scattered applause lines when he hits the right notes. Not enough. To interrupt. Theunusualspeakingpattern.
"Now I know this is a heavy messages..." No kidding. He tries to end it upbeat: "The ultimate salvation is you the American people." But it seems tacked on. Clearly a smart guy... but I'm not sure how he ever got elected precinct delegate (as he started his speech as length discussing his past in party positions) let alone five terms in Congress.
After brief applause we waste no time forging ahead into the Rick Santorum introduction. Louder applause; he has a few supporters in the house, and not just immediate family. "We're gonna hit 50 cities in 14 days, and this is the biggest crowd yet." More energy already in the entire McCotter speech. "We've been to 62 counties and done over 100 events with Iowans."
"This is the most important election since 1860." (that's supposed to be Newt's line!) "It's up to you Iowans to find an antidote to the virus that Iowa Democrats gave the nation four years ago."
"Barack Obama is feeding a subtle narcotic called dependency. We need to lift people up to believe in themselves again. We have to find someone who matches their record with their accomplishments. Some one who isn't just checking the boxes now but has taken a leadership role." Take that, Mitt. "And we need someone who can win the election."
So that's his framework. "Let's look at my record vs. everyone else's." He touches on the soundbite he gave me: beating incumbents in a tough state. I forgot the history of his two House races before his Senate terms: He hnocked off a D incumbent in `90, got paired in `92 redistricting, beat another Dem, both on strong Democratic turf in bad years. He moved over to the Senate in a good year, 1994. "I've gone up against the best the Democrats have to offer, against Carville and Begala in a state that's tough to win." Shouts out to Newt: "In Carville's book I was the 3rd most hated Republican and Newt I think you were number 2."
Acknowledging another elephant in the room: "Yes, I lost in 2006 but just about everyone else did. But there's one thing worse than losing an election and that's losing your principles."
"One of the papers called me 'the super pledger.' In 16 years I've never broken a pledge. I sign them because I believe."
After that we get some 1776 rah rah. Life, Liberty. Pursuit of Happiness. Without delving into abortion policy details, he says "We are going to honor all life." One person claps once. No one joins in. "They said pursue happiness, not guarantee happiness. True happiness is in pursuing what God has called you to do."
As for American exceptionalism, a recurring theme of the night across candidates, he says: "If everyone is exceptional, Mr. President, nobody is." A father of seven has likely seen the Incredibles several times. "We are exceptional because we believe in you and you and you. This president does not."
"For 100 years the left has tried to get this one thing done: government run health care. They knew if they could addict every single American to government health care, they could own you." Cites Says Thatcher saying she could never turn the UK around because of National Health. "A Conservative in Britain is to the left of a Democrat in America." I find myself strangely agreeing with this point.
Says he was the only candidate to campaign against the judges last year (still looking for that BVP endorsement?)
"In a week you're going to have the opportunity to narrow the field. Look at who the mainstream media is paying attention to. Who are they leaving out of the polls? And why? The mainstream media does not want to promote a candidate who can beat they candidate they favor. Obama." Also: All the other candidates have increased name ID except me. That's making a silk purse out of it. "Go to Ames and put it out there and fight for the principles and values we believe in. And win. And win." He is assertively continuing past his time limit. "Let them know what you think is right for America. And by the way vote for me." Solid applause (McCotter's was more mercy applause.)
Straight into the Newt Intro as the Santorums head to the lobby. 6:54.
"This can't be an election just about the presidency. We need a dozen senate seats and 30 or 40 House seats to have a second Contrac with America and spend the first 90 days restructuring America. We nead the whole team. Turning this country around will be an eight year job and we will need your help every day."
"How many of you believe in the 10th Amendment?" Most hands go up. "10th amendment enforcement will be in the second Contract With America." Newt's signature song, remixed for the 21st century. Two supporters are incongrously standing in the back with a Georgia flag (the newer, non-Confederate version).
Obama "combines radicalism with incompetence." Compares negotiating with Clinton, saying Clinton was someone he was able to work with. But "When Obama is radical he's competent. (health care.) When he's not radical he's not competent. When he's doing well he's doing the wrong thing and when he's doing poor he's doing the right thing." This goes over better than pretty much anything McCotter or Santorum said.
"We're already in the Obama Depression, there's a danger we could get into a much deeper one. Having 9 or 10 precent unemployment in a Democratic society is dangerous." The solution is tax cuts and it's an applause line. As a professor he's more entertaining than McCotter.
Replace the EPA with an "Environmental SOLUTIONS Agency" that takes the economy into account. Everyone likes this and likes repeal Dodd-Frank finance bill. "Repeal Dodd-Frank or next year we'll repeal them." Cracking down on the National Labor Relations Board draws very scattered but very enthusiastic exclamations.
As for energy he's all in on ethanol as a choice of "South Dakota over Saudi Arabia" He also likes him some drill baby drill too. Alaska is "all locked up by liberals who are afraid all their arguments about scarcity will disappear."
"The cost of class warfare is food stamps. Class warfare kills jobs." Tripling down on the Obama Is The Best Food Stamp President line. I may not need to mention this again. It got a lot of attention early, but now, just assume it's there.
The 12 person debt supercommittee "should hold all its meetings in public. We owe it to the American people."
Newt works the crowd
Newt done at 7:13. Photogs are catching TPaw with Newt. And Pawlenty is on, that didn't take long. The Newt contingent exits noisily right in front of our press table while TPaw talks about a family trip to Wisconsin Dells. There's a punchline but the point is Pawlenty's a family guy.
TPaw previews his structure: before we move forward we have to look back. He, too, blames the Iowa Democrats for Obama. (You're welcome.) "Before you put somebody in the White House, we ought to make sure he actually accomplished something." Plays the speeches card and the community organizer card and the "Obamacare must be repealed in its entirity" is a big applause line.
So after five or so minutes of Obama bash he transitions. "We need to show Americans a better way forward" starting with the economy. "A 10 year old can explain this better than Obama." Cites actual 10 year old: "Keep the taxes low, then people will have more money to buy things. Then the businesses will be busier and hire more people. Then the people will have more money." It's a soimple plan. Not quite as simple as my "Tax The Rich End The War." Though his energy plan is half that length: "More American Energy."
How is he different than the other candidates? "Did you do it? I don't want to hear any more speeches, I don't want any more empty rhetoric. Look at my record in Minnesota." Takes the approach of piling on the examples to make the case. "We need leaders who have the executive experience and results to be president." The Obama bashing got more reaction.
Crowd has thinned noticably. That's not a slam on TPaw, as a big chunk of that was the move to the lobby by the Newt and Santorum contingents. As TPaw concludes, Santorum us still working the edges of the crowd.
So TPaw is the Results guy, Newt is Newt 2.0, Santorum is the I Can Win guy and McCotter is... nope, still can't figure it out.
TPaw wraps: "The main way we're going to goof this up is if we nominate the wrong candidate." An implied Bachmann bash. "What good will it do Iowa to be first if we pick a candidate who can't win?" So, an appeal to caucus vanity? Will that work?
The exodus accelerates to an embarrassing degree as congressional candidate John Archer is introduced. "We need new leadership... no, we need LEADERSHIP... in the White House." His shorthand for the incumbent is Liberal Loebsack and he calls himself "a fiscal and socail conservative." Cites his international travel for John Deere with asides about German health care and an extended discussion of "China is playing to win."
Archer's from Scott County, the biggest piece of new turf for Loebsack. "It is shameful to me how Obama and Loebsack have dealt with domestic and foreign policy." So he ties the two together; works for me in a 70% Obama County, but of course I'm just a crazy blogger in a hat. More than half the room now either gone or in the lobby waiting to meet Newt, Santorum and TPaw while Archer continues about cutting corporate taxes and eight pound piles of government paperwork.
"Repeal Obama Care" gets automatic applause at a GOP event the way "repeal No Child Left Behind" did in Democratic crowds in 2007.
Looking over the presidential speakers, other than Santorum there was barely a mention of social issues. 90 percent economy, 9 percent foreign policy, one percent social issues.
Now we have Dan Dolan, another congressional candidate. (Archer is the main-chance guy; there's a tea partier in the mix too.) His big applause line is that his son just graduated from West Point. He continues on through the whole family. He has almost as many as Santorum. This all serves as a lengthy introduction to the debt. "I'm not a career politician but I'm willing to serve."
Nevertheless, he's still a more engaging speaker than McCotter. Moving on to energy independence with just a third of the crowd left. Newt TPaw and Santorum still visiting with folks. McCotter may or may not still be here, and how could you tell if he was? I don't see him. The Rick Perry contingent is still on hand. I saw a Bachmann table, and some signs, but not a big presence. She's in Cedar Rapids tomorrow.
As I make my exit I chat with some legislators. Can it be that my big story is a mayoral endorsement and a District of the Day update?