Over 150 people gathered in Ames at Congressman Tom Latham’s campaign headquarters on Tuesday afternoon to welcome four of the six Republican candidates running for statewide executive office.
It was the final stop on the kickoff leg of what will be a multi-county, summer-long “Iowa’s Comeback” tour.
Topping the list of candidates is gubernatorial nominee Terry Branstad. “This is our year,” he said emphatically. “November will bring a great victory for our party and a return to sound and responsible government for our state.”
The four-term former governor was visibly energized as he appeared with newly minted Secretary of State nominee Matt Schulz, State Treasurer nominee Dave Jamison, and Attorney General nominee Brenna Findley. State Auditor David Vaudt and Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey could not attend the event.
In his seven minute speech, Branstad only briefly mentioned his own race against Democratic incumbent Chet Culver. Most of his remarks were about the possibility of a complete Republican takeover of state government.
“I am so proud of this great team of candidates that I get to run with,” he said. “I can honestly say that since I entered politics over thirty years ago, we have never had a stronger team of Republican candidates than we do right now.”
On taking back the legislature, Branstad was cautious but optimistic. “We need seven seats to take back the House, and eight seats to take back the Senate. The Senate will be more difficult, but of the 25 seats up for election, 19 of them are held by Democrats.”
“And this year,” he added. “so many people are upset about what the Democrats are doing, both on the federal and state level, that we might have a chance to take [the Senate] back.”
The 63-year old veteran was in full campaign mode. Animated in his gestures, passionate in his delivery, and unflinching in his predictions of victory in November.
“I have an 11-0 record in my campaigns for public office. I have won in bad years for Republicans, like 1982 and 1986. And I have won in good years for Republicans, like 1990 and 1994. But I have never seen a year like 2010. I have no doubt that we will win in November, and win big.”
The audience, which responded enthusiastically, was notably younger than the usual graying audiences that one might expect to see at a weekday afternoon event. The standing room only crowd included many young professionals in suits, a surprising amount of college students, and even a number of homeschooling families, complete with children in tow.
“This was a great event,” said Felix Knutson, a homeschooled 16-year-old from Hubbard. “I’m glad I came down here for this. I did not know that Branstad had so much fire.”
And there was plenty of fire to go around. Secretary of State nominee Matt Schulz continued his strong advocacy to require voters to show state issued drivers licenses to prove their identity and residency.
The voter ID issue will undoubtedly play a large role in his general election campaign against current Secretary of State Michael Mauro. And his upbeat demeanor will go far in attracting voters under 40 to swing his way.
Attorney General nominee Brenna Findley spoke on the need to have a chief law enforcement officer who will travel the state, listen to the legal concerns of all Iowans, and represent “we the people, not we the lawyers.”
The crowd’s response to Findley was significant. The 34-year old former chief of staff to Congressman Steve King has definitely grown on voters, perhaps faster than any statewide candidate in the last decade.
State Treasurer nominee Dave Jamison cited the need to have a chief financial officer who will watch over the people’s money better.
He recounted the scandal that rocked the Treasurer’s office last year, when $500 million of state employee retirement funds were essentially stolen and used to buy the late actor Paul Newman’s California home as well as to purchase $80,000 worth of gift teddy bears.
Republican Party of Iowa chairman Matt Strawn hosted the event. In introducing each candidate, he mentioned the significant role that each would play in “leading Iowa’s comeback.”
Strawn, a principal owner of the Arena Football League’s Iowa Barnstormers, has been at the helm of the party for only 18 months. Yet in that time he has brought significant change to RPI’s public image and its outreach to its 99 county organizations.
His approachable leadership style and his knowledge of visual presentation and professional packaging seems to be working well for the party. The highly publicized and smoothly run events which he has emceed have helped boost party morale and fuel expectation that the party is moving in the right direction.
Polish, professionalism, and optimism now characterize RPI events. And it is quite intentional. Strawn understands that in a visually driven culture, a political party has a responsibility to do whatever it can to grab the attention of an easily distracted voter base and hold it long enough to drive home a message.
In 14 months, the national news media will descend on Iowa for the Ames Presidential Straw Poll. With a growing number of Republican National Committee members wanting Iowa bumped from its traditional first-in-the-nation caucus status, it would seem that the State Central Committee membership — which will elect a chairman for the 2011-13 term next January — would keep the big event as a chance to showcase Iowa politics.
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