A week ago, Republican Party of Iowa Chairman AJ Spiker sent out a mass email celebrating the success of the 2013 Reagan Dinner that featured Texas Senator Ted Cruz. The email read, “Wow! What an event! Thank you again to all of the more than 600 people who attended Friday night’s Iowa GOP Ronald Reagan Commemorative Dinner.”
Technically, the event was a sell out, but only half of the ballroom at Community Choice Credit Union Convention Center was utilized that evening. While one can argue about whether or not the event was as huge of a success as Chairman Spiker claims it was, the event was one of the largest fundraisers that the current administration leading the Republican Party of Iowa has been able to pull off.
My email inbox filled up with comments about the dinner itself and Spiker’s self-congratulatory back-patting, but one email stood out. The author was Ralph Brown, a former Executive Director of the party from 1975-77. Mr. Brown also served as the State Central Committee’s legal council and organization committee member from 1977 to 1993. He also served as the Dallas County GOP Chairman from 1981 to 1989. Needless to say, Brown has been around the block a couple times, and I always find it interesting to hear what a person like that has to say.
Brown’s email began, “It is amazing to read the RPI’s description of Friday night’s Reagan Dinner as such a resounding success. About 600 tickets at the discounted price of $75. Wow!” Brown then went on to compare the event from a week ago to the real Reagan Dinner.
Brown explained that the first Reagan Dinner, which also was held at Veterans’ Auditorium, was held 46 years ago on October 25, 1967. The parallels between the two events were striking. Reagan had just been elected Governor of California ten months before he came to Iowa to headline a Republican Primary. Like Reagan, Sen. Ted Cruz has only held his office for ten month.
The 1967 dinner with Reagan was the first under new State Chairman Bob Ray. Brown explained, “About 2,200 people paid $100 a ticket; that equals $699.30 in today’s dollars. Another 7,000 or more filled the balconies at Vets Auditorium. WHO TV, which broadcast the speech live interrupting regular programming, said there were about 10,000 people in the Auditorium to hear Reagan.”
Brown then recommended that I watch the broadcast from the event, which can be found in California’s archives. I did, and was blown away by what I saw. Brown commented, “[The coverage of the 1967 dinner was] nothing like the CSPAN coverage last Friday night. I was at the  dinner and remember what an incredible experience it was. By the way, October 25, 1967, was in the middle of the week – it was a Wednesday night, not at the beginning of a weekend.”
Brown added that he attended the February 1964 Lincoln Dinner at Vets Auditorium with New Jersey Senator John J. Williams. That event drew 4,000 attendees. Tickets were $25 a piece or $187.97 in today’s dollars. There was also a dinner before the 1968 Republican State Convention with Illinois Senator Ev Dirksen. About 7,500 showed and paid $25 for dinner that night. Brown added, “The Party didn’t declare a sellout and stop selling tickets… they kept selling tickets and when they ran out of meals they sent the overflow crowd to nearby restaurants for their meal. Ideas of successful Republican fundraising have changed.”
I asked Brown why we don’t have fundraising events like that anymore.
“It seems to me there is little effort by the state party to encourage and help develop fundraising programs in the counties to promote ticket sales to statewide fundraising events,” Brown told TheIowaRepublican.com. “The state party just doesn’t give the organizational attention to fundraisers as in years past. Fundraising events just don’t have the importance and fun they used to,” Brown added.
Brown also said that Iowans are somewhat spoiled, noting that, since 1979-80 election cycle, most presidential candidates now travel to all corners of the state. He make’s a valid point, but it’s still a shame that we celebrate events with several hundred people in attendance like it’s a major accomplishment.
Below is the video of the 1967 Reagan Dinner. If you have the time to watch it, you will not be disappointed. What I find amazing is that the subject matter that Reagan is speaking about is still relevant today. Reagan spoke about the debt ceiling and other fiscal issues, but he also addresses two other issues that Republicans are dealing with today.
Nationally, there are some who are pushing to moderate the Republican Party so that it’s more appealing to more people. Reagan disagrees with that tactic.
“I know that politics as usual would indicate that our party should take positions that are not unattractive to any viewpoint, try to be all things to all people, but statesmanship demands that we face reality with a faith in the people’s wisdom, and there is a crying need for statesmanship today.”
Reagan even has some advice for Iowa Republicans who seem more interested in fighting among themselves than winning elections
“If you believe in the causes that we discussed tonight, when you go forth from this place, go determined that no remembered bitterness as a result of organizational strife, no remembered grudge from some intra-party conflict will keep you from supporting the cause that brought us together. Millions of Americans, in a voting bloc that crosses racial, religious and ethnic lines, yes, and crosses party lines, millions of Americans are watching. And Millions of young Americans, our sons and daughters, are waiting to see if, once again, we will let ourselves be divided by the shadings of liberal, or moderate, or conservative applied complete with a hyphen before we use the word Republican. They are watching to see if we place more importance on those shadings than on the challenge that confronts us. For with youthful wisdom, they know the price they will pay if we fail to meet our challenge. The stake we play for is the future in which they must live.”
We would be wise to heed Reagan’s advice to Iowans that night some 46 years ago.
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