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July 14th, 2010

Gingrich and Pawlenty: Serious About Iowa

By James Johnson

Former speaker of the United States House of Representatives Newt Gingrich and current governor of Minnesota Tim Pawlenty visited Des Moines on Monday to speak to Republicans and conservatives about working hard and staying positive going into this November’s midterm elections.

Speaker Gingrich had an especially busy morning. He started the day by making remarks at a fundraising breakfast for 3rd district congressional candidate Brad Zaun.

Then he followed with a radio interview on WHO with morning host Jan Mickelson.

Then he spoke at a political training workshop with aspiring Republican legislative candidates.

Then he spoke to a luncheon attended by over 500 religious conservatives.

Four different forums. Four different audiences. All with questions and answers from the audience. All done by two o’clock in the afternoon. An extraordinary half-day of work.

Governor Pawlenty, as he often does when visiting Iowa, brought along his wife Mary. She is now moving into the role of introducing her husband. And it is quite effective.

As the First Lady of Minnesota, Mary Pawlenty is an accomplished attorney, yet she exudes a wholesomeness and down-to-earth charm that is quintessentially midwestern.

The two Minnesotans work as a team. And with the Gopher State’s proximity to the Hawkeye State means that Republican voters will see both of them. Frequently.

Although the nation is not paying much attention to the 2012 election, Gingrich’s and Pawlenty’s visits on Monday remind us that the presidential courting process is well under way.

Iowans will continue to see an escalation of visits from White House aspirants in the next 19 months.

The Democrats have scheduled their caucuses for February 6. Seeing that the date is the 101st anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s birth, the Republicans will most likely vote to hold their caucuses on the same date, using it as an opportunity to make a national statement about limited government, free enterprise, and family values.

But six months before then, Republicans in Iowa will hold the Ames Presidential Straw Poll at Iowa State University.

It is just 13 months away. And weathering the sweltering summer event is a must for anyone who wants to emerge as hot in the freezing winds of February.

Iowa is seeing its share of possible presidential candidates.

Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney have come here within the eight months for book signings.

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania Rick Santorum have appeared several times on behalf of statewide candidates.

And Texas Congressman Ron Paul has appeared for several high-profile events held by his Campaign for Liberty.

Monday was just another reminder that presidential politics never really stops in Iowa. Residents between the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers notice the book signings, endorsement events, and breakfast and banquet speeches that the national news media cannot cover.

And lest any presidential candidate assume that he (or she!) can waltz into Iowa on Caucus Night and walk away with a win is quite mistaken. Iowans know who shows up. And they also know who does not.

In April 2007, nine months before the Iowa Caucuses, a reporter from the New York Post called me to inquire as to why New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani was only polling at six percent among likely Iowa Republican voters.

“I cannot believe it!” he said. “How can America’s Mayor be doing so poorly there?”

“It is because he has not been showing up,” I replied. “The people here want to see him. They are not going to support him if he does not come out here.”

He protested. “But he is an international figure. He brought America together after 9/11.”

“It does not matter,” I said. “This is Main Street, not Manhattan. If you want to win in Iowa, you have to come here. You have to visit our diners, our parks, our county fairs. You have to shake our hand, look us in the eye, answer our questions, and not be condescending.”

The reporter did not get it. Neither did Giuliani. And within a month, he announced that he would not be competing in the Straw Poll.

And he paid the price. He bombed in the caucuses. He bombed in New Hampshire. He bombed in South Carolina. He bombed in Florida. And then he quit.

Iowa may not determine the eventual winners, but it definitely separates the contenders from the pretenders.

And the season for separating is coming on fast.

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About the Author

James M. Johnson
James M. Johnson is the president of the Iowa Republican Assembly, which works to get constitutionally minded conservatives elected to leadership positions in the Republican Party, and to elective office on the local, state, and federal level. He has worked on over 50 political campaigns and holds an M.A. in public policy with a concentration in political communication.

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