ALTOONA-Iowa Governor Terry Branstad celebrated his 67th birthday in much the same way he has several previous ones: with a big party and fundraiser at Adventureland Park in Altoona. The annual Branstad Birthday Bash has turned into a very successful fundraiser for Branstad’s political coffers, and always includes political heavyweights from around the state and at least one nationally known Republican headliner.
Two years ago, several of the GOP presidential candidates paid tribute to Iowa’s longtime governor at the Branstad Bash. Last year, it was Florida Senator Marco Rubio. This time, Wisconsin congressman, and 2012 vice-presidential candidate, Paul Ryan delivered the keynote address.
Here are some thoughts and tidbits on Ryan’s speech and the overall event:
The Setting: The Palace Theater at Adventureland is great for events like this. I’m surprised it is not used more often for large GOP fundraisers. The room space is perfect, the staff is excellent and the overall look and feel of the place is nice, but not too ostentatious.
The Food: Served buffet-style, shredded BBQ pork, buffalo chicken tenders, steakhouse potato salad, chuck wagon corn, barracho beans and salad. It all tasted delicious. There was also a BBQ flank steak with chipotle aioli that looked amazing, and must have tasted the same. Sadly, it was all gone by the time I went through the line.
Overall, a great meal. It always is at the Branstad Bash.
The Crowd: The crowd was estimated at 800, making it the highest attendance for a Branstad Bash. It was a mix of elected officials, prominent Iowans, Republican Party regulars and Branstad backers. Folks from every corner of Iowa were there.
The campaign would not say how much money they took in, but considering they garnered $600,000 last year, and this year’s crowd was a record, it’s safe to say they raised a lot.
Notable Attendees: It’s possible I missed a few, but the big names included Senator Chuck Grassley, Congressman Tom Latham, Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds, Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey and Iowa House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer.
Five of the six U.S. Senate candidates were in attendance. Scott Schaben was the only one missing. They all had volunteers working their booths and getting petitions signed, as best I could tell. The Branstad campaign also had a slew of volunteers pushing petitions. Potential senate candidate Rod Roberts was also on hand.
There were numerous state legislators there, from around Iowa. RNC National Committeewoman Tamara Scott, RPI Co-Chair David Fischer and new SCC member Monte Shaw were also on hand.
The Timing: One of the great things about Branstad fundraising events is, they don’t last very long. This one started at 5:30 and was over, for the most part, by 7:30. Plenty of people stayed and mingled longer than that, but you didn’t have to spend your whole Saturday night listening to speeches for hours on end. Branstad likes it that way, and speaking as someone who covers many of these, so do I.
The Speeches: Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds warmed up the crowd, pointed out the notable attendees and introduced Paul Ryan. She more or less served as the emcee.
The former VP nominee pointed out that it had been a year since he visited Iowa. Ryan made numerous stops in the state in the final months of the 2012 general election. He spent the first several minutes of his speech on Saturday praising Governor Branstad, Senator Grassley, Congressman Latham and thanking the Iowans who supported the Romney/Ryan ticket last year.
About six and half minutes into his speech, Ryan shifted to the Obamacare rollout debacle, tying Iowa Democrat Congressman and U.S. Senate candidate Bruce Braley to the much-maligned bill.
“I don’t know if you noticed this, but Obamacare has had a few hiccups lately,” Congressman Ryan said. “Don’t you remember, we were told we had to pass this bill in order to find out what was in it? Well here we are. I seem to recall, one of the guys who was really fighting hard for this law, voted for and was pretty passionate about it, was a guy named Bruce Braley.”
Ryan said the bill is disrupting Americans’ lives and the Obama administration is either being dishonest or they are incompetent for their handling of Obamacare.
Iowa was a swing state in the 2012 election, and despite spending a lot of time here, the Romney-Ryan ticket lost to Obama-Biden in the Hawkeye State. Paul Ryan offered a warning for those voters who chose the Democrats: “The next time you have a famous politician coming through Iowa, breezing through the towns, talking about big government, let’s be a little more skeptical.”
The former VP nominee also suggested that Republicans need to not just be the “opposition party”, but also the “proposition party”, offering new ideas to the American people.
There was nothing remarkable about Ryan’s speech. It was delivered well and the substance was pretty good, but it wasn’t anything special. Part of the problem is almost everyone in the room had heard Congressman Ryan speak in person before at least once. Also, this wasn’t really the time or place for a rah-rah speech, so he did not try to deliver one. He spoke for around 17 minutes.
There was plenty of national media on hand to cover the event, Ryan kept his name in the pool of potential 2016 presidential candidates and he made a favorable impression. Overall, Paul Ryan probably accomplished what he wanted to with this visit.
Congressman Ryan wrapped up his speech by leading the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday” to Governor Branstad. He also unveiled his birthday gift to the governor. The diehard Packers fan pulled out a cheesehead, with the Branstad mustache logo emblazoned on it. That was a nice, and amusing, touch.
The honoree kept politics out of his speech, for the most part. Instead, Governor Branstad recognized many of the people who have supported him over the years and reflected on the relationships he has developed in Iowa and abroad, including with the president of China.
Branstad spent most of his time praising his family. He also beamed with pride about the pending birth of his first grandson. He has five granddaughters.
Branstad kept the speech short, and took a cue from his most trusted confidante on when to wrap it up.
“I just got the signal, it’s time to cut it off. That’s the great thing about my wife. Other people might be afraid to tell me the truth. She never will be, and I love her for it,” Branstad said as the crowd chuckled and applauded.
The governor’s speech lasted only about eight minutes.
Overall: It was a good event. It was more fun and laid back than many of the recent GOP fundraisers. Great food, a decent speech and a quick event. Well done.
This brings a close, for now, the steady stream of big-name Republicans who have visited the state in recent weeks. Enjoy the peace and quiet while you can. They’ll be back soon.
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