Polk County Republicans held their annual Robb Kelley Club Fall Dinner on Thursday, with Texas Governor Rick Perry serving as the keynote speaker. Perry is a former, and perhaps future, candidate for president and his appearance drew media attention from around the state and country.
Here’s a look at Perry’s speech, plus other tidbits and thoughts from the event:
The Setting: The Embassy Suites in downtown Des Moines is a frequent site for Republican events like this. The facilities are very good and the banquet space provided was perfect. There was also plenty of room outside the banquet hall for mingling during the reception hour
The Attendees: 457 people showed up for the dinner and 485 tickets were purchased. It was a veritable who’s who of Central Iowa Republicans. There were plenty of longtime activists, party regulars and a fair amount of newer faces sprinkled in.
Senator Grassley was not scheduled to attend the event, but he notified Polk GOP officials Thursday afternoon that he would try to make it. Grassley arrived a little late, but the beloved U.S. senator received a rousing standing ovation when he was introduced. The spry 88-year old even climbed up on his chair so everyone could see him at the end of the prolonged applause. Grassley did not speak at the event.
In terms of elected officials, almost every state legislator from Polk County was there, including Iowa Representatives Jake Highfill, Chris Hagenow, Ralph Watts, John Landon and Kevin Koester.
State senators on hand included Brad Zaun, Jack Whitver, Charles Schneider and Joni Ernst. Of course, Ernst is also running for the U.S. Senate. Others in that race who attended the event included Matt Whitaker, David Young and Scott Schaben.
All of the U.S. Senate candidates purchased booths to disperse literature, get their petitions signed and try to sway voters. The Governor Branstad, Secretary of State Schultz and Draft Ben Carson for President campaigns also bought booths.
Mark Jacobs, who is still exploring a bid for the senate, bought a booth, but no one was manning it and there was no literature available. It looked out of place next to all the tables that were staffed. I believe Jacobs was in attendance, however.
Potential senatorial candidate Rod Roberts and potential congressional candidate Mariannette Miller-Meeks came to the event as well. Roberts is the director of the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals. Miller-Meeks runs the Iowa Department of Health. They are both still considering running.
National Committeeman Steve Scheffler, Committeewoman Tamara Scott and State Central Committee member Gopal Krishna were the only representatives from the state party there. Monte Shaw and Art Smith, two of the three candidates vying for the open slot on the SCC, also attended. Several county officials from Polk and Dallas were also at the event.
The Food: Chicken kiev, steak, asparagus, mashed potatoes, bread and salad. For dessert, chocolate cake, cheesecake with caramel syrup, crème brulee and custard were offered. The chicken kiev was not very warm, which is understandable with events like this. I’ve had better meals at GOP fundraisers, but I’ve had much worse as well. Overall, everything was good.
The Money: The Polk County GOP brought in more than $50,000 with this event. That’s an impressive haul.
Touching Moment: Early in the event, Gloria Mazza was honored with the Polk County GOP’s 2013 Volunteer of the Year award. Mazza was not expecting it and the presentation made for a nice moment. Mazza spent countless hours helping Republican campaigns and the Polk GOP over the past 12 months and the honor is well deserved.
Everything was kept short. The entire dinner and program was done in less than an hour, which is remarkable.
Jack Whitver and Chris Hagenow: Speaking on behalf of Iowa Senate and Iowa House Republicans, respectively, they kept things very brief, mentioning their fellow legislators in attendance and touching on a few important topics.
Sen. Whitver said one of his goals for the 2014 session is to eliminate the Iowa income tax. That idea was very well received.
Congressman Tom Latham: Latham took the opportunity to shred President Obama, who earlier in the day had finally apologized for misleading Americans by repeatedly telling them they could keep their health insurance plans if they liked it.
“Did you hear the president this afternoon,” Latham asked. “He apologized for misleading the American people the last five years with the healthcare bill, knowing all along that what he was saying was not true, that you can’t keep your policy if you like it.”
Latham said 2014 is a huge opportunity for Republicans because the ramifications of Obamacare are going to get worse as more of it is implemented. Interesting stuff.
Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds: Like the other speakers, Reynolds was brief. She highlighted some of the accomplishments of the Branstad administration and those of Republican governors around the country.
During her speech, they played a clip from the movie “Caucus” where Rick Perry takes the time to chat with an elderly, decorated veteran who came to see him at an Iowa event. The context is better while viewing the whole movie, but it showed Perry in a very good light. Reynolds then introduced Governor Perry.
Rick Perry: The Texas governor’s keynote address lasted less than 13 minutes, making it one of the shortest speeches of this type you will ever see, and a huge contrast from Texas Senator Ted Cruz’ 50-minute marathon two weeks ago. Many attendees TheIowaRepublican.com spoke with afterwards were surprised it was over so quickly.
The crowd reacted positively while Perry was speaking. He delivered several applause lines and some that elicited laughter, including this self-deprecating line: “Our leaders have forgotten how to govern. And believe me, I know a few things about forgetting.”
Governor Perry scored again with a line about the NSA being the only part of government that is actually listening.
Perry donned reading glasses for the speech, which was something Iowans were not used to seeing. Perry also read his speech from a prepared script. He did this often during the 2012 campaign for president as well. If Perry wants to be a contender in 2016, Perry will need to speak more often without prepared remarks.
Governor Perry made a point to effuse praise on Iowa Governor Terry Branstad and Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds, and other Republican governors around the nation. Prior to the dinner, Governor Perry told WHO Radio’s Simon Conway that he plans to spend the next 12 months helping GOP governors get reelected in 2014.
Perry also hammered the Obama administration at several points during the speech.
“It’s amazing to me that the Obama administration is capable of barricading a war memorial despite government being shut down, but they can’t operate a website when it gets up and running,” Perry said.
Overall, Perry touched on many of the same themes as he did two years ago on the Iowa campaign trail. He is not a magnificent orator and although the speech was fairly well delivered, it was not one that got the crowd enthused or won Perry a slew of new supporters.
Virtually every attendee TheIowaRepublican.com spoke to afterwards felt the speech was too short and lacking specifics. However, they also found Governor Perry very likeable and enjoyed listening to him. They just wanted to hear more.
Overall: Whereas the RPI dinner two weeks ago was too long, this event was a tad too short. However, there was no dissension or animosity between the speakers and everything was kept upbeat. That’s another stark contrast to the RPI dinner. The Polk GOP dinner was well organized and efficient. When the only complaint is that the event was too short, that’s a good event.
*Note: There will be a special, private screening of the documentary movie “Caucus”, on Tuesday, November 19, for Polk County Republicans at the Fleur Cinema. Ticketholders for the Robb Kelley Club Dinner can get in for half-price.
Dave Davidson has a good pictorial look at the event here:
Photo by Dave Davidson, Prezography.com
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