Every four years, Iowans are entrusted with the task of winnowing the field of presidential candidates. This process usually begins with the run up to the Ames Straw Poll. I think Iowans are fortunate to get the opportunity to get to know so many different candidates.
In the 2008 caucuses, Iowa Democrats were able to really get to know Senator Joe Biden. Biden didn’t do so well on caucus night, but a lot of Iowans got to know that man who is now our Vice President. Most other states don’t offer their activists the same opportunities.
Last year, when I attended the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the caucuses were a month behind us. We had been inundated with presidential candidates for over a year, and hearing another stump speech wasn’t something I was looking forward to.
While that was true in regards to John McCain’s speech at last year’s CPAC, Mitt Romney shocked everyone at the conference when he announced that he was withdrawing from the race. Later in the conference, Mike Huckabee delivered an incredible speech.
This year, things were different at CPAC. It’s been a while since the presidential candidates have been around Iowa, and after the 2008 elections, I was anxious to see a glimpse of the future. CPAC didn’t disappoint.
Of all the potential 2012 candidates who spoke at the conference, it was South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford who really stood out to me. Sanford, who I had never heard speak, didn’t give a speech full of right-wing rhetoric. Instead, he spoke about how just one person can make a huge difference in the direction of our country.
The candidates I was most curious to see this year were Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee. A lot of people expect to see a rematch in 2012 between the two. Romney didn’t disappoint. I thought he sounded the most like a presidential candidate of anyone I saw at the conference. Romney’s speech was loaded with specifics about reforming entitlements.
Huckabee was introduced by his daughter Sarah. She shared a story from her childhood which conveyed how close she is to her father. Huckabee’s speech got off to a tough start as the funny story he told was maybe a little long and out of place for a CPAC crowd. Huckabee spoke about the Congressional Recovery Action Plan (C.R.A.P) which is his name for the bailout.
I always get the feeling that Huckabee doesn’t feel comfortable at CPAC. It might have to do with David Keene, the head of the American Conservative Union which puts on CPAC, being a loud and vocal Romney supporter.
The former presidential candidate that surprised me the most was Dr. Ron Paul. As always, he had a passionate crowd encouraging him. Paul’s supporters and his Campaign for Liberty organization were well represented at CPAC.
The interesting thing about this year’s CPAC was that, even though it had a fantastic lineup of speakers, people like Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and Sarah Palin were not even there. While we tend to start the conversation about the 2012 Iowa Caucuses with the candidates who ran in 2008, I think we are going to see a lot of new faces around Iowa in the coming years.
There is a lot of time between now and when the various candidates start staffing up in Iowa, but the positioning phase of the race is well underway.
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