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March 25th, 2011

Vander Plaats’ 99-County Tour: By the Numbers

By Kevin Hall

One of the best ways to gauge support of a political candidate, or cause, is to look at the size of the crowds they are attracting.  It’s pretty simple.  If large crowds turn out for you events, your message is resonating and your organization is doing its job.  If the crowds are small almost everywhere you go, your campaign is kaput.

Bob Vander Plaats just wrapped up week 11 of his 12 week, statewide “Capturing the Momentum” tour on behalf of the FAMiLY LEADER.  We thought it would be an opportune time to look back at the crowd sizes of the tour so far, and try to decipher what they mean for Vander Plaats’ social conservative message, his organization and his political future.

Vander Plaats is very pleased with the results of the tour.  “It’s exceeded our expectations, like crazy,” he told  “Not only the numbers that have come out, but the people that have signed up, the people who are interested to stay engaged for the long term, the number of ambassadors that we have lined up and grassroots coordinators, I believe that we are going to have a great statewide organization.  An authentic statewide organization, so we’re thrilled.”

The FAMiLY LEADER uses various means to attract people to their tour stops.  One is free food and beverages.  They notify people of the events via automated calls and personal calls, as well as relying on county central committees and local church organizations.  It is obvious that in areas where the central committees were big boosters of Vander Plaats in the 2010 primary, like Pella and Oskaloosa, he receives a lot of help attracting people to his events.

While the crowd sizes were very pleasing for BVP in places like Garner, where they drew a crowd of 65, a few events were somewhat disappointing.  The most surprising numbers come from Northwest Iowa.  That is Vander Plaats’ home territory and generally considered the most social conservative part of the state.  It would be reasonable to expect Vander Plaats to draw large crowds in this area.  He has not.  Other than a group of 54 in Sheldon, the crowd sizes in Northwest Iowa were stunningly small.

If you average together eight other stops in that portion of the state, Vander Plaats’ visits average less than 13 people.  That includes crowds of 4 in Sac City, 6 in Le Mars, 9 in Cherokee and 9 in Lyon County.  Vander Plaats’ defeated Terry Branstad in the 2010 primary in Lyon County by more than 400 votes, but Branstad’s recent visit there drew at least 100 more attendees than Vander Plaats’.

“It is true that the turn out in Lyon County was thin,” said GOP central committee chairman Cody Hoefert.  “I feel this had to do with a couple things: time of day of the meeting and date.  Also, many of the folks here are supporting and agreeing with the message on the judges.  Overall the turnout was lower than I expected.  Republicans here in Lyon County have been very fired up and the turn outs for most of our recent events have exceeded expectations.”

However, Vander Plaats was not disturbed by the lack of large crowds in that part of the state.  “These guys always vote right,” he said.  “They’re with us.  But these guys are producers.  They work and they work hard.  They’re heavy into agriculture, so for these guys to take a break out of their day, that might be a more difficult thing.  But we had more than 70 in Sheldon, it was overflowing.  So, we felt good about every stop.”

A recent Northeast Iowa swing also drew small numbers, but overall, Vander Plaats averages more than 30 attendees at each event.  That kind of interest and support in his cause has to be very encouraging.

“Capturing the Momentum” tour by the numbers:

81 out of 99 counties visited so far

2,000 estimated total anttendees

31 average number of attendees per event

39 tour stops held at Pizza Ranch, with 4 more scheduled for next week

9 events postponed due to winter weather

150 attendees in Pella, the largest crowd of the tour so far

20 anti-Vander Plaats attendees in Pella

2 press conferences held by former BVP campaign aide Dan Moore, denouncing the current tour

4 attendees in Sac City, the smallest crowd so far

6 attendees in Le Mars, the home of BVP’s biggest donor, Blue Bunny Ice Cream honcho Mike Wells

75 reported attendees in Cedar Rapids, the second biggest crowd of the tour, although an estimated half of them were protestors

50+ attendees in Marshalltown, Newton, Burlington, Oskaloosa, Garner and Sheldon

2 stops in Polk County

76 combined attendees for Polk County stops, excluding FAMiLY LEADER staff

1 event, in Altoona, where BVP shared the floor with ally and former talk show host Steve Deace

Photo by Dave Davidson

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About the Author

Kevin Hall
Kevin Hall brings almost two decades of journalistic experience to TheIowaRepublican. Starting in college as a radio broadcaster, Hall eventually became a television anchor/reporter for stations in North Carolina, Missouri, and Iowa. During the 2007 caucus cycle, Hall changed careers and joined the political realm. He was the northwest Iowa field director for Fred Thompson's presidential campaign. Hall helped Terry Branstad return to the governor's office by organizing southwest Iowa for Branstad's 2010 campaign. Hall serves as a reporter/columnist for

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