The Polk County GOP held its Annual Robb Kelley Club Fall Dinner on Tuesday. This was the first gathering of its kind of Iowa Republicans since the disappointing November 6 elections. The event was headlined by Governor Branstad and featured speeches from several Republican officials.
Here are my thoughts on the event and some other interesting tidbits:
Setting: The Scottish Rite Masonic Center in downtown Des Moines provided a very elegant and classy location for the event. Excellent spot.
Food and Drink: It was delicious. Salad, a steamed carrots/broccoli mix (which I passed on), bread, mashed potatoes and a choice of chicken marsala or pork aupouve. I chose the pork and it was fantastic. I was told the chicken was excellent also. Contemporary Catering did the cooking. Excellent job.
The cash bar was very popular as well. Red wine seemed to be the most requested item. So much so, that they ran out of it.
Crowd: 256. Only 20 or so were comps, mostly for volunteers. It was a good combination of party activists and deep-pocketed Republicans. Former Governor Bob Ray and his wife Billie were in attendance. State Auditor David Vaudt was also there, even though he was not among one of the speakers. Several Polk GOP elected officials, as well as candidates who ran unsuccessful campaigns were also among the attendees.
Notable Absences: The only GOP state central committee member in attendance, as best as I could tell, was Jamie Johnson. Organizers said National Committeeman Steve Scheffler planned on coming but was under the weather. Polk GOP Co-Chair Dave Funk was out of town.
Money raised: $25,000. That caps a record year of fundraising for the Polk County GOP, with a total of $182,000. Kudos to Darrell Kearney and Ryan Keller for their hard work.
The Mood: Republicans are still demoralized from the November elections. However, the speakers did a good job addressing that issue and encouraging the crowd to look toward the future.
Most Emotional Moment: State Senator Jack Whitver honoring John Ward and his recently deceased wife, State Senator Pat Ward. That merited a standing ovation.
Interesting Info: Whitver also said Bill Dix was a unanimous choice among Iowa Republican state senators to become their new leader.
Congressman Tom Latham: Polk County’s new congressional representative could not attend because he was in Washington, D.C. for a vote, but he spoke briefly to the crowd via speakerphone. Latham thanked Polk County Republicans for helping him defeat Leonard Boswell.
Key quote: “Government is broken. The system is broken right now. That’s why we’ve got to redouble our efforts and stick to our principles.”
Secretary of State Matt Schultz: Schultz gave his usual stump speech advocating for Voter ID, but he added a twist. Schultz encouraged the crowd to get over the November elections and start working toward 2014. It was a very good, brief, motivational speech from the Secretary of State.
Key quote: “I’m done licking my wounds. I hope you are too. It’s time to get to work. We need to stand up and fight back.”
Governor Terry Branstad: The governor made it pretty obvious that he intends to run again in 2014, with comments like “I am looking to the future” and “We’re looking forward to building a stronger, more diversified party and winning Polk County and Iowa in 2014.”
Branstad is clearly disappointed Republicans were not able to capture the majority in the Iowa Senate, but spoke optimistically about the chances for property and income tax reform.
Governor Branstad’s speeches are usually hit or miss. This one was a hit. He got more animated as he spoke, twice saying he better quit before he gets too “wound up”. The crowd was enjoying this side of Branstad and tried to egg him on to keep going. It was a good speech with some passion, humor and optimism. Overall, Branstad delivered a very fitting keynote address.
Key quotes: (Jokingly) “This is only my 18th year as governor. I’m just getting started.”
John Stokka: The Polk County GOP activist was chosen by Polk GOP Chairman Kevin McLaughlin to deliver the closing remarks. It’s pretty obvious that McLaughlin hopes Stokka succeeds him when a new chairman in chosen next year. Stokka gave what clearly seemed like a candidate’s stump speech. He left everyone with the impression that he is running for something. He is. For Polk County GOP chairman.
Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds, Iowa Senator Jack Whitver, Iowa Rep Chris Hagenow SD 22 candidate Charles Schneider and Polk GOP Chairman Kevin McLaughlin: The other speeches were short and on point. Schneider mainly used his time to ask the crowd for assistance in helping him with the Senate District 22 special election on December 11. All of their addresses to the crowd were solid and fairly well-received.
Best Speeches: Branstad and Schultz. The Secretary of State did a good job firing up the crowd and encouraging everyone to look past the November disappointments. It was a welcome speech and set a good tone for the evening. Governor Branstad’s keynote address was the perfect way to the wrap-up the night.
Overall: I spoke to a couple dozen people after the event to get their thoughts on the evening. Everyone thought it was a very good overall event, with solid speeches, great food, a classy atmosphere and it was kept relatively short. The social hour began at 6pm, dinner was at 7pm and the event ended around 8:30.
The one aspect of the evening that received mixed reviews was John Stokka’s speech. It wasn’t so much that he gave a bad speech, but people felt his address was somewhat out of place after we had already listened to the keynote speaker. As I mentioned earlier, Stokka sounded like he was trying to convince the crowd to vote for him. The timing of the speech was not appreciated by some folks in the audience. However, on the whole, the Polk County GOP fundraiser was a solid, well-organized event.
Photo by Brad Boustead
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