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March 8th, 2011

Santorum Shines, Cain Impresses at IFFC Event

By Craig Robinson

The Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition (IFFC)was the focus of the political world yesterday as it hosted five potential 2012 presidential candidates at their annual spring fundraiser.  An over-flow crowd of over 1500 people packed the Point of Grace Church in Waukee, where the event was held.  Governor Terry Branstad, who addressed the crowd, called the IFFC gathering the first significant event in the lead up to the 2012 caucuses.

The event, which was covered by hundreds of journalists from around the country, also attracted Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren, who filmed her show live from Point of Grace last night.  The main attractions of the night were Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, and Buddy Roamer, but Governor Branstad, Congressman Steve King, and Ralph Reed were also featured prominently. Pete Ricketts, the National Republican Committeeman from Nebraska and owner of the Chicago Cubs, introduced each of the candidates.

Unlike previous events the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition have held, this year’s event looked professionally produced.  In fact, it looked and felt like a national debate put on by a major news network.  The folks at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition should be very proud of the type of event they were able to produce last night.  They should be equally proud of the massive crowd that attended.

While the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition was a big winner, let’s look at how each of the potential 2012 presidential candidates placed after sharing the same stage.

1. Rick Santorum:

If any candidate had a lot on the line at last night’s event, it was Rick Santorum.  The 1500 or so people who attended this event are the ones he needs to convince that he’s the horse to back in the Iowa caucuses.  Not only did Santorum deliver a heartfelt speech that addressed the social issues that those in attendance are passionate about, but he also made it clear that he’s just not saying that these issues are worth fighting for.  He’s actually led the fight on them.

Santorum explained that his battles to advance a socially conservative agenda have come at a price.  Even though Santorum led the fight in the Senate on welfare reform and medical savings accounts, the media always referred to him as an ultra-conservative because of his efforts to fight for pro-life and pro-family causes.

“My kids used to think my first name was Ultra,” Santorum told the crowd.  “Once you fight for the moral fabric of your country, you’re labeled. I’m Ultra because I share your values, and I fought for them,” he told the audience.

Santorum’s pro-family accomplishments are more impressive then the other four candidates who shared the stage last night combined.  While Gingrich talked about what executive orders he would issue on day one of his presidency and Tim Pawlenty bragged about his fiscal stewardship while being the governor of a blue state, Santorum reminded people that he led the fight to end the practice of partial birth abortions that it was he who led the fight for the unborn victims of violence act, and it was he who led the charge on the born alive infant protection act, which simply states that if a baby is born alive during an attempted abortion, the child is extended legal protection.

Besides Newt Gingrich wanting to allow Israel the right to locate its capitol in the city of Jerusalem, Santorum was the only candidate to touch on foreign policy.  Santorum talked about how Republicans, including President George W. Bush, failed to understand that they were losing the battle in America, not Iraq in 2006.  Santorum said, “This isn’t a war on terror, just like WWII wasn’t a war on blitzkrieg.  We are at war with jihadist.  They hate us because of who we are.  I took on that battle and continue to do so.”

Santorum also mentioned that he supported the Iran freedom and support act, which sowed the seeds of freedom inside of Iran.  Santorum then criticized the current administration for sitting on the sidelines or siding with the mullahs in Iran and Libya.

Santorum is not as good of a speaker as Mike Huckabee was in 2007 and 2008, but what he lacks in that department he makes up for with substance and results.  His record of accomplishment matters to those that attended last night’s event.  Those people might not be ready to join his effort right now, but when people start making decisions on who they support, he’s going to be on their list.  Santorum performance last night reminded me a lot of what Huckabee did in April of 2007 when he shared the stage with nine other 2008 Republican candidates at a Republican Party of Iowa event.

2. Tim Pawlenty

Santorum was the clear winner last night, but the battle for second place wasn’t quite so clear.  I think Pawlenty earned the spot despite referring to Steve Scheffler, the event’s organizer, as Chuck Scheffler.  Not only did this occur three times during his speech, but TheIowaRepublican.com was told it also happened a couple times in the private reception before the event as well.  It’s hard to understand how Pawlenty’s impressive Iowa staff allowed that to happen so often last night.

Like many of Pawlenty’s speeches, they start slow and finish strong.  For the first half of the speech, Pawlenty told a few jokes.  One was a hit, while the other one was a flop.  He then recounted stories about President Lyndon Johnson and President Ronald Reagan.  The stories were great, but it I can’t vote for Reagan in 2012.

Pawlenty then switched gears and became the candidate the field so desperately needs, a strong governor who is proud of what he accomplished during their time in office.   Some of the accomplishments that Pawlenty touted were reducing spending in Minnesota for the first time, actually cutting taxes twice, and paying teachers based on performance.

He also did the best job of any candidate in tying his record as governor to the current events of the day.  In 2005, Pawlenty’s differences with the Minnesota Democrats led to a state government shutdown.  He also didn’t budge when unionized bus drivers demand exorbitant retirement benefits.  His stance led to a 41-day transit strike.  Pawlenty also noted that he was one of only four governors who received an “A” from the CATO institute.

Pawlenty then closed his speech with what has become his “New Birth of Freedom” close.  “My friends, none of this is going to be easy.  If prosperity were easy, everybody around the world would be prosperous. If freedom were easy, everybody around the world would be free. And, if security were easy, everybody around the world would be secure,” Pawlenty said.  He then added, “Valley Forge wasn’t easy. Settling the West wasn’t easy. Winning World War II wasn’t easy. Going to the moon wasn’t easy. This ain’t about easy.”

Pawlenty’s speech filled the room with energy, but by the end of it, he seems to be losing his voice.  It also seemed a little forced or unnatural for him.  Pawlenty is a very nice calm person, but his rousing close is most likely a tactic to overcome his perceived charisma deficit.  Overall, Pawlenty scored well with the crowd but didn’t have the pro-life record or testimony that Santorum was able to offer.

3. Herman Cain

If I was working for one of these candidates, the one speaking spot that would have made me grimace is one that followed Herman Cain.  Cain is a phenomenal orator, and his speaking abilities allowed him to fit right in with the more established candidates he shared the stage with last night.

Cain’s fiery and enthusiastic speech was extremely well received by the crowd.  He was interrupted twelve times by applause.  The former Godfather’s Pizza CEO and former Chairman of the Kansas City Federal Reserve, set a high bar that was difficult for the others to follow.   The other candidates spent the rest of the night trying to measure up to his performance, and none could match Cain’s performance quality.

Cain laid out a vision for America based on three guiding principles: (1) do the right thing, (2) lead the nation from an entitlement society to an empowerment society, and (3) it’s not about us, it’s about the grandchildren.  Much of the crowd was likely seeing and hearing Cain for the first time.  He made about as good an initial impression as one could make.  Herman Cain helped his presidential aspirations Monday night.

The only problem with Cain’s speech is that, once again, he failed to give credit to Benjamin Mays, with whose words Cain began his speech.  It would be one thing if Cain was so well known that the audience knows that the words he began his speech with were not his own, but neither he nor Mays, who is one of Cain’s heroes, is well known enough to forgo a proper citation.

4. Newt Gingrich

Newt Gingrich had the unenviable task of immediately following Cain.  He knew it would be a tough act to follow, so he started his speech by joking that he just told Cain, “I’m stealing as much of that as I can.” Gingrich’s speech lacked the fire and passion of Cain’s and seemed to drag a bit in the beginning.   However, the former U.S. House Speaker eventually won the crowd over by continually focusing on a “power of the people” theme.

Gingrich is the idea man of the Republican Party, and that was on full display Monday night. His promise to issue four executive orders on his first day in office drew cheers from the crowd.  They included eliminating White House “czars”, stopping taxpayer funding for abortions in foreign countries, restoring conscience clauses for healthcare workers and telling the State Department to respect the sovereignty of other nations, particularly Israel.  Gingrich was interrupted by applause 11 times during his speech.

Gingrich didn’t hurt himself at last night’s event but he didn’t do anything to set himself apart from the other candidates either.  Last month at the Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit, Gingrich blew the doors off of the place.  He didn’t have the same sort of performance last night in front of a crowd that is sure to attend the caucuses next year.

5. Buddy Roemer

The biggest unknown of the group was former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer.  His speech drew the most laughs from the crowd.  Roemer’s message started to resonate with some, but it dragged on way too long.  He focused on his extensive resume as a former congressman and governor.  Then he shifted to Washington, D.C., corruption, which struck a chord with the crowd.

However, Roemer spent way too much time talking about how to grow his campaign.  His plan too closely resembled a pyramid scheme, and I wondered if he was going to ask people to buy some Amway products.   He also quoted a Robert Frost poem near the end that seemed totally lost on the crowd.  Roemer claims he would not accept any individual donations over $100 and no PAC money for his campaign.  The crowd appreciated his points, but the speech would have been much better if it was 10 minutes shorter.

Crowd Reaction

Kevin Hall contributed to this story.

Photos by Dave Davidson

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About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of TheIowaRepublican.com, a political news and commentary site he launched in March of 2009. Robinson’s political analysis is respected across party lines, which has allowed him to build a good rapport with journalist across the country. Robinson has also been featured on Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, ABC’s This Week, and other local television and radio programs. Campaign’s & Elections Magazine recognized Robinson as one of the top influencers of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses. A 2013 Politico article sited Robinson and TheIowaRepublican.com as the “premier example” of Republican operatives across the country starting up their own political news sites. His website has been repeatedly praised as the best political blog in Iowa by the Washington Post, and in January of 2015, Politico included him on the list of local reporters that matter in the early presidential states. Robinson got his first taste of Iowa politics in 1999 while serving as Steve Forbes’ southeast Iowa field coordinator where he was responsible for organizing 27 Iowa counties. In 2007, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa where he was responsible for organizing the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll and the 2008 First-in-the-Nation Iowa Caucuses. Following the caucuses, he created his own political news and commentary site, TheIowaRepublcian.com. Robinson is also the President of Global Intermediate, a national mail and political communications firm with offices in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Washington, D.C. Robinson utilizes his fundraising and communications background to service Global’s growing client roster with digital and print marketing. Robinson is a native of Goose Lake, Iowa, and a 1999 graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, where he earned degrees in history and political science. Robinson lives in Ankeny, Iowa, with his wife, Amanda, and son, Luke. He is an active member of the Lutheran Church of Hope.




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