The Republican Party of Iowa held its annual Reagan Dinner Wednesday night at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in the Elwell Center. The event was headlined by Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and RNC Chairman Reince Priebus. It also featured a speech by Ron Paul’s official campaign blogger, Jack Hunter, who used part of his time to criticize other Republicans.
Here are my thoughts on the evening as it progressed:
-Crowd size: Not bad. Almost 250 total people on hand. There was word over the past week or so that tickets were not selling well, but 250 is decent. Not everyone paid to get in, so I’m curious to see how much RPI raised from this event. The Scott County GOP had their annual dinner at the same time, headlined by Bobby Jindal, plus Mitt Romney was campaigning in Cedar Rapids, so very few folks from eastern Iowa travelled to Des Moines for this.
–Makeup of the crowd: Quite a few young folks, mixed in with some party regulars. A handful of state house and senate candidates were on hand, as well as a few elected officials. A little more than half of the GOP state central committee members attended. Each SCC member was offered two comp tickets.
There were plenty Ron Paul backers on hand. RPI made separate appeals to them, pleading in emails that “it is vital we rally our fellow liberty supporters to attend”. In an effort to lure them, RPI recruited Ron Paul’s official campaign blogger, Jack Hunter, to speak at the dinner. Interestingly, neither the emcee nor Hunter ever identified his association with Ron Paul during the event.
–The food: A choice of lasagna, chicken or pork. I cheated and had both the lasagna and the pork. I’m usually leery of chicken at these types of events. Sides were mashed potatoes and gravy, a small salad and rolls. Overall, pretty good. I polished off all of my meal, including the vegetables, so mom would be proud.
–Booths: A handful of campaigns bought booths/tables for the event. They included the Latham campaign, the No Wiggins campaign, the Liberty Iowa PAC and a few others. There was also a table with literature for many of the local candidates. The No Wiggins people worked the hardest to get yard signs passed out to people as they were leaving.
–Silent auction: There were some cool auction items, but unfortunately, they were poorly promoted. They were all in large, picture frames, including one painting of numerous ex-GOP presidents playing cards (my personal favorite), a unique picture of a young Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer smoking at the tee box, a framed U.S. Constitution, a Ronald Reagan picture, a Vince Lombardi picture with the words one of his famous speeches and a photo of baseball legends Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. Maybe one or two more than I’m forgetting.
The minimum bid on most of these items was $125. Unfortunately, very little was said about them during the event, so I’m betting most attendees did not even know about them. And since they were placed on the tables which the campaigns likely paid money for, at least two of the pictures wound up on the floor for the majority of the event so the campaigns had enough space for their own materials.
Steve King: The congressman got the evening off to a fiery start, as you would expect. He ridiculed Christie Vilsack for her infamous “What are Iowa values?” tour, correctly pointing out that a former first lady of the state should know what values Iowans treasure. Good speech, as usual.
Reince Priebus: The RNC chair followed King, which is a tough act. He heaped tons of praise on RPI Chairman A.J. Spiker, along with saying nice things about National Committeeman Steve Scheffler and National Committeewoman Tamara Scott. I thought the Spiker praise was a little over the top, but Priebus wants to keep the RNC officials on his side. He encouraged everyone to work and the Wisconsin native noted that his state and our state will deliver victory for Mitt Romney in 13 days. Another good speech.
Linda Upmeyer and Kraig Paulsen: The house majority leader and house speaker spoke separately, but I’m lumping them together here. They both noted that they think they will be able to extend their 60-40 majority on Election Day. That would be quite an accomplishment. They both gave solid speeches.
Bob Vander Plaats: Bob is usually a good speaker and this night was no different. He largely stayed away from the gay marriage issue, instead focusing on Justice Wiggins’ violation of his oath to uphold the Constitution. This was not necessarily a Vander Plaats-type crowd, but his speech was well-received.
Jack Hunter: Ron Paul’s official campaign blogger gave an interesting speech based on Ronald Reagan’s “three legged stool” of the Republican Party: national security conservatives, social conservatives and fiscal conservatives, or “economic /libertarian conservatives”, as Hunter put it.
Hunter took the opportunity to criticize Iowa Caucus winner Rick Santorum, more than once, for his comments that he would “fight very strongly against the libertarian influence within the Republican Party”. Hunter was trying to make the point that Santorum is not a fiscal conservative, based primarily on these comments.
However, Santorum’s comments about libertarianism were in response to the following question: “Should the Public Accommodation section of the 1964 Civil Rights bill be open for revision?” Santorum emphatically said “No”, then went on a tangent about libertarians wanting no government, which he disagrees with.
The question had nothing to do with economic policy. Property rights perhaps, but not economics. That section of the Civil Rights Act basically says you can’t refuse someone admission to a business or deny them service based on their race, color, religion or national origin. The question was asked of Santorum because Ron Paul said he would have voted against the Civil Rights Act.
So basically, 13 days before Election Day, a featured speaker at the Republican Party of Iowa’s fundraising dinner is knocking the winner of the 2012 Iowa Caucus by taking his words out of context. And yes, I believe RPI knew Hunter would do this when they booked him because he’s been doing on the internet for months, even writing that “Santorum represents everything that is wrong with the Republican Party”. Fortunately, he did not voice that criticism Wednesday night.
The larger point of Hunter’s speech was the need for the Republican Party to return to fiscal conservatism. The Bush/Cheney years saw massive, out-of-control spending, as Hunter pointed out, and we must not return to that. He is absolutely right in that regard. Hunter’s speech was interesting and well-delivered, but on a night when the goal is to fire-up Republicans, his criticisms were ill-timed.
Tom Latham: The congressman joked that his speech would be shorter than emcee David Oman’s introduction. And it was. Latham pointed out that Leonard Boswell said twice during a live debate on the radio the night before that he supports tax increases on the middle class. Couple this with Boswell advocating for raising the federal gas tax and the Democrat congressman is talking himself right out of Washington, D.C.
Bob McDonnell: The Virginia governor served as the keynote speaker for the evening. I caught a portion of his pre-dinner visit with a select group of attendees. McDonnell told them he believes Mitt Romney has basically clinched a victory in North Carolina and McDonnell believes he will also win Virginia, another battleground state like Iowa.
McDonnell comes across as a very down-to-earth guy. As RPI Co-Chair Bill Schickel put it, the Virginia governor speaks more like he’s having a conversation with you instead of talking at you. McDonnell was recently selected as the head of the Republican Governors Association and he praised Iowa Governor Terry Branstad as well as top GOP chief executives around the nation.
Governor McDonnell’s primary goal was to extol the virtues of electing Mitt Romney. He did a good job of inspiring the crowd to work hard and push Republicans over the victory line on November 6. It was a good speech and it is easy to see McDonnell as a potential presidential candidate down the line.
Jerry Behn: McDonnell was supposed to deliver the final speech of the night, but the Iowa Senate Republican leader was accidentally skipped over, so Behn got to wind up the night. He kept it short, but expressed confidence that Mike Gronstal will finally be in the minority in the next legislative session, which brought cheers from the crowd. Behn also honored State Senator Pat Ward, who passed away last week. That was a classy touch and an emotional moment for some in the audience.
Overall: I thought it was a good event, but a little on the long side. Things began at 6pm and ended shortly after 9pm. Moderator David Oman, a last-minute replacement for Jan Mickelson, probably should have shortened his introductions.
I know many Republicans are still leery of the Ron Paul-dominated SCC and that’s why some well-moneyed folks who would usually show up for events like this stayed away. Hopefully, activists were inspired to go out and work hard these final 12 days to get Republicans elected. That’s the ultimate goal of this event and I think it succeeded for the most part.
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