Thursday, April 03, 2014

Scouting The Other Team: Johnson County GOP Dinner

Greetings from the Coralville Mariott and the Johnson County Republican dinner where I'm not a tracker. I'm scouting the other team because we have a big game in November and I need to check out their moves.

The program proper starts at 7:30 so right now the eating is happening. Governor Branstad is slated as a keynote speaker. The US Senate candidates are mainly on the other side of the state though Mark Jacobs is on hand. He and Ernst and Whitaker have big tables of Stuff but, surprisingly, I see no presence from Sam Clovis.

Mariannette Miller-Meeks is reportedly on hand though I've yet to actually see her; line of sight is probably obstructed by a taller person. Mark Lofgren isn't here but his stuff is. And state senate candidates Bob Anderson and Royce Phillips are working the crowd. Mike Moore reportedly RSVPd but isn't on hand. Sending the check helps too in such things.

I'm skipping our own central committee meeting for this assuming it'll be more interesting. Our chair conceded the point but she had to run the meeting.

The press platform is straight back from the stage and I'm directly in back of the governor, which marks the first time I've ever been behind Branstad on anything. Organizers report a paid attendance of about 130 which looks about right. Will be interesting to compare room capacity when the Dems host our own event in this same room on May 17.

And now I see Miller-Meeks working the crowd. Dinner proper is winding down. My bet is for a brief Branstad speech and lots of humor at Bruce Braley's expense.

Karen Fesler is handling the MC duties and thanking the organizers and sponsors. Some things are alike on bothsides. Some things different: Republican events start with much more prayer/national anthem stuff. Another elected official spotted, Laurie Goodrich of Coralville City Council.

Karen hands off the mic to Bill Keettel, the chair. Bill repeats many of the thank yous. First shot at Braley comes with the Jacobs introduction. Ernst has a surrogate on hand. The other event is apparently in greater metropolitan Mt. Ayr. Miller-Meeks gets louder applause than Jacobs, Lofgren gets an excuse for legislative duty. My applause meter can't detect a difference between Bob Anderson and Royce Phillips.

As for the House seats (where there are no candidates in the four core seats) "we're building the party and intend to contest those seats in the future." Finally, waaaay down the list - Danny Carroll, who takes the mic.

Carroll reminisces about his legislative days and tax cuts which leads to a call for the GOP trifecta and much rejoicing. Keettel gives John Etheredge a shout out for supporting a bill that lets us auditors offices scan and discard some ancient voter registration forms after we scan them. Bill also gives some credit to Sally Stutsman and ("I'll praise him just this one time") Mike Gronstal.

Sandy Greiner handles the Branstad intro. I'm not expecting to hear much about hiring and firing in this speech. Greiner: "The governor treats the lt governor as a 100% equal." Or heir apparent... yet I don't see her here. Brags up Iowa's low unemployment rate of 4.2%... *COUGHdEMOCRATICpRESIDENTCOUGH* but "when you get farther away from the metro areas things get more difficult but things are coming back and we thank the governor and lt governor for that."

Greiner continues to talk economics and taxes, with a mention of tuition freeze; this doesn't seem like a social issues crowd tonight. This time next year at an event like this it may be very different with presidential candidates keynoting.

And The Guv is on.

Lovely room but the lighting is poor for photos, especially from the cheap seats. 

Branstad shouts out to the absent Reynolds: "I have met my match in enthusiasm and energy." Seems it's her wedding anniversary. Also reminiscences about ex-press secretary Susan Neely. Praise of women seems to be a theme here.

"I became a Republican in Iowa City. I was pretty disillusioned with the Democrats and a law student named Julian Garrett said the Republicans aren't as bad as you think. So I went to a meeting and the speaker was a young state representative from New Hartford named Chuck Grassley, this was in 1966."

"We know this is a challenging difficult county but I just want to thank all the people who volunteer."

"This is our best opportunity in 30 years to win this senate seat. The Democrats made a big mistake they had no contest and united behind a flawed candidate. Our beloved Senator Chuck Grassley has more intelligence than all the trial lawyers of Texas. We need a senator who will vote WITH Chuck Grassley, not put him down." So no jokes, full-throated attack.

"I've never lost an election, and one of the reasons for that is no one will ever work harder." Some not-necessary Culver bashing - dude, you won -  but also telling that he went after Braley before Hatch. "Iowans don't want to go back to the debt and excessive spending of the past. They want to see the state grow and prosper."

"You may remember in the Vilsack administration, 18, 19% increase in tuition. Now for the first time we have two years in a row of no tuition increase." Again to a predecessor. He's dismissing Hatch by omission.

"We also need to recognize the importance of investing in the rest of the state of Iowa." Brings up Lee County fertilizer plant - is he going to work in a Democrat bash here? "We didn't give them a handout - we gave them a credit against future taxes. And you got a senator in Iowa City, Bolkcom, who said that was the worst deal he's ever seen." Yep, called it. "They're still gonna pay a heck of a lot in taxes, and if they'd located in Illinois we wouldn't have gotten any of those jobs." Bolkcom's attacks are "purely for politics. They could have passed a tax cut, but instead he wants to take those 1000 jobs.  There's only two counties I've never carried: Johnson County and Lee County. Your Senator may make it possible for me to carry Lee County." (interesting omission... for the record Bob Ray did win Johnson County twice, in his last two runs. And Chuck Grassley won four in a row here before trailing Roxanne Conlin in 2010.)

Speech running must longer than I anticipated. I expected brief remarks.

"2014 can be the year I lead this team to victory. We can win that senate seat, we can win a bunch of congressional seats, and we can win both houses of the legislature. "

He wraps with not a mention of his actual opponent, just a brief painting of "failed policies of the past." A harsh dismissal of omission. A brief goodbye from Fesler and exodus to the doors begins. Standing by to see what happens.

There's a little traffic at the Jacobs table, less at Ernst's, none at Whitaker's. Exodus to doors is slow. So is news so I'll sign off. 

Afterthought: Branstad avoided taking any sides in the contested primaries even though it's well assumed that Ernst is his preferred Senate candidate and almost certain he favors his former department head Miller-Meeks. You might try to take a hint from his praise of female candidates at the beginning of his speech as he discussed Greiner and Reynolds, but you'd have to be looking for it. Also, absolutely zero acknowledgement that technically, Branstad has a primary challenger of his own. Not that it merits much mention. 

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