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November 5th, 2011

Reagan Dinner Recap, Winners and Losers

Five GOP presidential candidates took the stage Friday at the Republican Party of Iowa’s annual Reagan Dinner. Frontrunners Herman Cain and Mitt Romney declined invitations. Each candidate was given eight minutes to speak and they all did a good job staying within that time frame.

Here is TIR’s Craig Robinson and Kevin Hall’s look at how each candidate’s speech was received by the audience, as well as who gained the most from this event:

Craig’s Take

Ron Paul deserves some props.  I have to admit he’s not necessarily my cup of tea, but as a candidate, Paul is much better in 2012 than he was in 2008.  In 2008, his comments about ending our foreign entanglements led some to believe he was a liberal Republican.  This cycle, Paul has made a point to talk about his pro-life beliefs, which is something he did last night.

Paul also benefits from a political environment that has moved in his direction since 2008.  His speech last night was well received, which is an indication that he is no longer just a fringe Republican candidate.

Interesting Note: Paul left after his remarks.

Kevin’s Take

The Texas congressman took the stage first and was a little more fiery than usual. He touched on his usual preferred topics of monetary policy and for the U.S. to stop being the policeman of the world. Paul also mentioned the life issue and said we should abolish the income tax. Paul received applause a handful of times, and not just from his supporters. He delivered a good speech.

Craig’s Take

Going into the event I thought that the crowd at the Reagan Dinner would be a perfect fit for Perry, which could have given him a well-needed boost in Iowa.  Perry was mobbed like a rock star in the pre-function area.  It also didn’t hurt that TV cameras and photographers captured his every move.  It seemed like my initial thoughts would hold true.

No matter how good Perry is in one-on-one situations, he continues to struggle under the lights when he’s on stage.  I was shocked at how coolly the crowd seemed to respond to his speech.  At first, I thought it was the result of the large cavernous room, but Bachmann perked up the crowd, and Santorum and Gingrich brought those in attendance to life.

Perry gave the audience plenty of content that they could have responded to.  Some did, some didn’t.  I found it odd how only half of the crowd would applaud at times, while other tables sat there quietly.  The only conclusion that I can draw is that while people maybe willing to overlook some blemishes on Perry’s record, the biggest obstacle that he must overcome is convincing voters that he is a competent and intelligent candidate.

Interesting Note: Perry used notes to give his speech and left after his remarks.

Kevin’s Take

This was a good medium between the goofiness we saw from Perry last weekend in New Hampshire and the robotic-like performance he has delivered in some debates. The response to Perry was polite, but not overwhelmingly warm. He did not hurt himself with this speech, but I don’t think he won anyone over either.

Craig’s Take

After Santorum and Gingrich, I thought the audience responded the most favorably to Bachmann.  Her speaking style lends itself to ample crowd interaction, and she always does well in front of a crowd.  The problem for Bachmann is that she seems to have become a one-hit wonder.

Bachmann’s speech is basically the same as it was back in June when she announced her candidacy.  Her subject matter – repealing Obamacare and Dodd-Frank – resonates with voters, but there is nothing different from her speeches four months ago to today.  Bachmann is almost like a TV commercial that grabs your attention the first couple of times you see it, but after a while, it become annoying, and you wonder why this commercial is so loud when it comes on to the TV.

Kevin’s Take

The Minnesota congresswoman gave a fairly standard, but abbreviated, stump speech. It was fairly well received. The audience applauded for her at two points. Bachmann made her usual “born in Iowa” mention, but only once. There was nothing she said that really stood out, but it was pretty good.

Craig’s Take

Rick Santorum has grown the most of any candidate in the Republican field.  All of the time that he has spent going from county to county has done more than just provide him with a good press release and a talking point when campaigning in Iowa.  Santorum is now a much better speaker.  He seems relaxed and happy when speaking.  It is obvious that he has made a strong connection to Iowa while traveling the state.

The difference between Santorum’s remarks and those of Ron Paul, Rick Perry, and Michele Bachmann who spoke before him was that Santorum made a personal connection, while the others just seemed to go through the motions and delivered a standard stump speech.  As is expected, Santorum stressed the importance of cultural issues, but he also promoted his plan to bring home American manufacturing jobs and closed by giving remarks regarding foreign policy.

Santorum gave the most complete speech last night.  The crowd at a Republican Party dinner isn’t necessarily a Rick Santorum crowd, but he put his best foot forward, and in doing so, he turned heads.  I get the sense that there are a number of people who never envisioned themselves supporting Rick Santorum, but he’s winning them over because of the depth of knowledge he brings as a candidate and the work ethic he has shown by campaigning all across Iowa.

Interesting Note: Santorum was the last candidate to leave the event venue, staying late to talk to as many people as possible.

Kevin’s Take

He was introduced with a slickly produced video ad. He told the crowd he “did a Grassley” by visiting all 99 counties, including 26 Pizza Ranches. The crowd was appreciative of his efforts. The main weakness in Santorum’s speech was that he told the crowd it was ok to applaud at one point. Following that, the audience was very receptive to his tax proposals, clapping several times. Santorum was the next-to-last speak and at that point, his was the best speech of the night.

Craig’s Take

It seemed only appropriate that Newt Gingrich was the final speaker at last night’s event.  Instead of using his ten minutes to speak about his various plans and ideas, Gingrich did what no other candidate in the Republican field could ever pull off.  He used his time to praise his fellow Republican opponents.  One by one, Gingrich succinctly talked about what each of them brought to the race.  It was genuine, and he artfully made the point that President Obama is our opponent, not his fellow Republicans.

The crowd loved it.  Gingrich then added that he would say good things about those candidates who were not there, Herman Cain and Mitt Romney, but since they chose to be somewhere else, he didn’t feel it necessary to comment about them.  Gingrich once again showed that he is the elder statesman in the field, a role that fits him perfectly.

Interesting Note: Gingrich also worked the room after his remarks.

Kevin’s Take

The former U.S. House speaker shined again. Gingrich started by individually praising each of the other four participants at the dinner. That was a classy move that did not go unnoticed. He joked that he would have complimented the other GOP candidates if they had bothered to show up.

The crowd loved Gingrich’s comment that “the White House will be my scheduler” in a general election campaign. Newt said he would visit every single town right after Barack Obama campaigns there, much like Abraham Lincoln did when challenging Stephen Douglas in an 1858 Illinois senate race. He would also challenge Obama to seven Lincoln/Douglas-style debates. The thought of a Gingrich/Obama debate has some Republicans salivating.

Kevin’s Overall Winner: Gingrich. He excelled and likely solidified some support. All of the candidates did well, but Newt was on his game, as usual.

Kevin’s Overall Losers: Mitt Romney, Herman Cain, some media members and Ronald Reagan. Romney and Cain lose for not attending. The media members who did not stand during the Pledge of Allegiance are losers. Ronald Reagan lost because he was barely mentioned at a dinner made in his honor. Also, the crowd was dismissed prior to the closing video, which featured Reagan. That was a shame.

Craig’s Overall Winner:  Santorum and Gingich.  The room only showed some life for two candidates last night – Santorum and Gingrich.  There is a growing sense that these two serious thinkers are about to get their time in the spotlight.  Santorum and Gingrich were the clear winners last night.


Photos by Dave Davidson,


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About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson serves as the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Prior to founding Iowa's largest conservative news site, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa during the 2008 Iowa Caucuses. In that capacity, Robinson planned and organized the largest political event in 2007, the Iowa Straw Poll, in Ames, Iowa. Robinson also organized the 2008 Republican caucuses in Iowa, and was later dispatched to Nevada to help with the caucuses there. Robinson cut his teeth in Iowa politics during the 2000 caucus campaign of businessman Steve Forbes and has been involved with most major campaigns in the state since then. His extensive political background and rolodex give him a unique perspective from which to monitor the political pulse of Iowa.

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