The Republican Party of Iowa’s Lincoln Dinner in Cedar Rapids on Friday was undoubtedly the high point of A.J. Spiker’s tenure as party chairman. The event was a success in every imaginable way.
I live-blogged the event Friday evening. Below you can view the full speeches from Rand Paul, Senator Grassley and Congressman King. I have also provided a few more thoughts on the evening:
The setting: It was a good move to hold the event outside of Des Moines. Cedar Rapids seemed the perfect spot. and Activists in eastern and western Iowa often feel left out of the big party events, so taking the show on the road, so to speak, was a good move.
The Hotel at Kirkwood provided an excellent venue. A packed ballroom, which included a throng of local, statewide and national media, provided a big time feel for the event.
The crowd: Around 500. That is an impressive number. I was expecting mostly Ron/Rand Paul supporters, and they did show up from around the state. However, there were also many party regulars from the Linn County area, legislators from Polk County, at least four potential U.S. Senate candidates (Whitaker, Ernst, Schultz and Roberts), statewide officials and other activists who travelled significant distances to be there.
The audience was enthusiastic and respectful, for the most part. Only one moron yelled “Rand Paul” at an inappropriate time, as Steve King was speaking. Otherwise, spirits were high and it seems the depression of November 2012 has subsided and people are fired up for 2014.
The timing: Sometimes these events can drag on interminably. The organizers were smart to keep this to just three main speakers, and three good ones at that. The main program lasted just over an hour. Perfect. I was in my car and headed home by 8:15.
Congressman Steve King
No matter what’s on the menu, you can always count on Congressman King to provide the conservative red meat. He riffed on Obamacare, not surprisingly, since he remains that bill’s most stalwart opponent in Congress. King also discussed immigration and his decision not to run for the U.S. Senate, noting he needed to remain focused on his current job.
King was energized and that translated well with the audience. He kept the speech just under 10 minutes. It was the right tone and timing, and a great way to begin the main program. Good stuff, as usual.
It was a bold, and I’m sure, calculated move on King’s part to credit Rick Santorum for doing more than anyone to preserve Iowa’s First-in-the-Nation status. There was a fair amount of applause for that line, too. However, I’m sure plenty of others in the room did not appreciate it.
Senator Chuck Grassley
The crowd absolutely loved the longtime senator and you could tell he was having a good time. Grassley spent much of his time discussing the 2014 U.S. Senate race and noted that since he’s not on the ballot, he will lend a lot of help in electing a Republican. Grassley was fired up, and funny.
One of the best moments was after the speech, Chairman A.J. Spiker asked the crowd to give him another standing ovation. Grassley had already returned to his table, so he stood up on his chair so everyone could see him. That’s not something you would see from most 79 year olds. Grassley still has plenty of fire in the belly and his speech reflected that.
The Kentucky senator impressed a lot of Iowans when he headlined RPI’s “Night of the Rising Stars” two years ago. At the time, a lot of attendees felt he was much more polished and electable than his father. He showed that again Friday night.
Rand Paul is trying hard to straddle the line between libertarian and social conservative. It is a very difficult thing to do. But if he’s successful and is able to build a coalition of Ron Paul supporters aligned with the Bob Vander Plaats wing of the Iowa GOP, Paul will win the Iowa Caucus.
As the media has pointed out in the aftermath of the event, Paul hammered the Obama administration, and Hillary Clinton in particular, for their handling of Benghazi. That took about five minutes from his 21-minute speech. Much of the rest of it was peppered his a farcical look at some of most egregious examples of waste in our federal government.
The final few minutes were used to express the need for the Republican Party to try to reach out to Latinos and African-Americans. Senator Paul made some good points about the GOP’s history in fighting for minority rights and the need to overcome the stigma that we are not the party for them.
Overall, it was a very good speech. Not too long, peppered with humor, interesting facts and some good jabs at Democrats. Paul did not marginalize himself as his father used to on foreign policy issues. He sounded like a mainstream Republican who is very comfortable discussing policy in a way everyone can relate to. This visit was beneficial to Rand Paul’s presidential aspirations.
No love for Abe: It’s called the “Lincoln Dinner” for a reason. Yet, there was no one single mention of Abraham Lincoln during the event. I would have been very intrigued to hear Rand Paul’s take on Abe, especially since his father showed open disdain for the Great Emancipator.
Let the games begin: Paul’s visit was the beginning of the 2016 Iowa Caucus campaign. He did much more in Iowa than headline RPI’s fundraiser. Paul met with a couple dozens pastors in Cedar Rapids on Friday afternoon, as well as a Republican women’s group. A.J. Spiker helped arrange Paul’s appearance at Johnson County fundraiser Saturday morning. This was a full-scale campaign visit.
Next up: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker will be the next potential 2016 presidential candidate to visit the state when he headlines the Polk County GOP’s fundraiser on May 23. That crowd will be even bigger, as they’ve already sold 550 tickets and are trying to get that number up to 600. 2012 Iowa Caucus winner Rick Santorum is coming back soon, as well. Only 970 or so days until caucus night.
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