By Jeff Patch
LAMES, Iowa*—Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) kicked off a new phase of her presidential campaign in Ames Saturday morning, breezing through a tailgate before the annual blockbuster Iowa-Iowa State football game to mingle with potential voters and energize her supporters.
State Sen. Jack Whitver (R-Ankeny), a Bachmann supporter, hosted the congresswoman at his tailgate spot just east of Jack Trice Stadium along with state Sen. Mark Chelgren (R-Ottumwa), who marked the occasion by wearing a University of Iowa-themed kilt.
Whitver, state Sen. Brad Zaun (R-Urbandale) and state Sen. Kent Sorenson (R-Indianola) blocked for Bachmann like an offensive line as their quarterback-candidate maneuvered through a mob of boozy tailgaters and eager supporters.
“God Bless America, Michele! Have a PBR!” one guy wearing an Iowa State University t-shirt yelled at Bachmann as she passed by (Bachmann also passed on the PBR).
The clothing of female politicians is over-analyzed, but it seems worth mentioning that Bachmann wore a Frankenstein jersey mashing up an Iowa and Iowa State uniform. Sorenson said that the customized jersey, featuring Bachmann’s name and the number 12, was sewn by Susie Klindt, a Bachmann supporter based in his district south of Des Moines.
Part fan-for-a-day and part politician, Bachmann also wore black slacks and black, high-heeled sandals. They didn’t slow her down, as Bachmann has brilliantly mastered the art of retail politics. She delighted in the time-honored tradition of holding babies and posing for photos with kids and toasted tailgaters alike.
As they caught a glimpse of the joint jersey, many fans couldn’t help themselves from asking Bachmann which team she really supports. Surprisingly, Bachmann, who touts her Waterloo roots, didn’t take a pass by citing her allegiance to the Cedar Falls-based University of Northern Iowa.
“That’s how the politicians work. They swing both ways,” said Jerry Walterman, a “Republican by birth” from Williams and a Hawkeye fan. “They never pick a side. Come on! Is she a Republican or a Democrat?”
Within minutes of running into Walterman, Bachmann was approached by a Cyclone fan.
“Iowa or Iowa State?” asked Quincy Babcock, a 36-year-old Iowa State fan.
“I love everybody, I love everybody,” Bachmann replied.
“Come on,” Babcock pressed, “Are you a Republican or a Democrat?”
“Now that I can tell you,” Bachmann said. “Republican.”
“Well, I mean this side is Republican [pointing to the Iowa State section of the jersey] and this side is Democrat [pointing to the Iowa section of the jersey],” Babcock said.
“Oh!” Bachmann said, laughing and moving on.
Jon and Tina Dill took their sons Caden, 5, and Brody, 1, to pose for photos with Bachmann. Jon Dill said that he would “more than likely” caucus for Bachmann, as he’s the brother-in-law of Sen. Whitver—and family relationships count.
“She was swarmed the whole time, and the people loved her,” Whitver said. “She is at her best when she is out amongst the people. I was happy to have her at the tailgate.”
Julia Madsen, a Bachmann supporter from Maxwell, stopped by to see the congresswoman, who she voted for in the Ames Straw Poll. Madsen, with seven-month-old niece Lily Jacobs in tow, beamed while talking with the candidate, who took Lily in her arms and bobbed to the beat of the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling.”
“This is how Michele needs to campaign,” said Ryan Rhodes, a Bachmann supporter and Iowa Tea Party activist. “This is Michele at her best. She’s at her best one-on-one… Everyone knows there’s that barbeque and beer factor.”
Bachmann was accompanied by a low-key contingent of national staffers, including press secretary Alice Stewart, who filled the same role in former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s 2008 presidential campaign. Stewart tapped Eric Woolson, a communications consultant on former Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s aborted presidential bid, to serve as the local point of contact for journalists covering the event. Woolson, who worked with Stewart in his role leading Huckabee’s Iowa caucus team in 2008, said he’s open to joining the Bachmann campaign but that he’s just a volunteer for now.
The Bachmann campaign has reorganized their operation since taking a dip in national polls following her first-place finish at the Ames Straw Poll last month. Campaign manager Ed Rollins recently scaled back his involvement with the campaign and his deputy, David Polyansky, left the campaign entirely. Bachmann brought in Keith Nahigian, an experienced advance operative who worked on John McCain’s 2008 campaign, as campaign manager.
In a two-minute press availability between two RVs after the event, Bachmann answered a couple horse race questions on her poll numbers and her opinion of how Gov. Rick Perry’s entrance into the race impacted her campaign.
“Oh goodness, no,” Bachmann said, in response to a question from a reporter about whether she’s a “second tier” candidate. “What we’re seeing on the ground is that there’s only one candidate that’s won anything in this race, and it’s me. I was fortune enough to win the Straw Poll here in Iowa. My goal is to take the voice, the common-sense voice of people in Iowa, all the way to the White House.”
Asked if the Iowa campaign stop was a response to criticism about her Iowa campaign strategy, Bachmann bristled again at the question.
“We’ve been in Iowa 70 days, and I think that what we’re known for is our time with people and talking with people, and so that’s why we’re here today with people again, and we’re here for football,” she said.
Bachmann’s campaign seems to have stepped up their organization post-Straw Poll. Staffers in Bachmann t-shirts followed the candidate around with iPads, entering the contact information of people who indicated an interest in supporting the campaign.
On her way out of the crowd, Bachmann stopped by a cornhole game to toss a couple of bags. She missed on the first toss but connected on the second. As the crowed cheered her on, a guy screamed, “Three points! She’s on my team.”
Another player, Tyler Stahlin, a 24-year-old graduate of the University of Northern Iowa, said he hasn’t thought about voting in the Iowa precinct caucuses, scheduled for Feb 6. He didn’t have an opinion about Bachmann but the registered independent from Marshalltown said that her willingness to play cornhole “scores some points for her.”
As Bachmann hopped into her campaign’s black Chevrolet Suburban, she waved goodbye to a crowd of onlookers. A guy in an Iowa State shirt yelled, “Go Cyclones!”
“That’s right!” Bachmann responded.
The Cyclones defeated the Hawkeyes 44 to 41 in triple overtime.
|Bachmann tailgate in Ames, Iowa|
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