SHENANDOAH – One of Iowa’s smallest counties was the hotbed for political activity in the state Saturday night. Three U.S. Senate candidates and three U.S. House candidates converged on Shenandoah for the Fremont County Republicans’ fundraising dinner.
Actually, the event was not technically in Fremont County. It was held just over the Page/Fremont line, at the Elks Club in Shenandoah.
Here are my thoughts and some tidbits about the event and the candidates’ speeches:
The crowd: A total of 50. That includes candidates and staffers, so there were around 35-40 local activists in attendance.
The U.S. Senate candidates on hand were Sam Clovis, Joni Ernst and Scott Schaben. Third District Congressional candidates included Robert Cramer, Monte Shaw and Brad Zaun. Matt Schultz’s campaign had a presence there, as did the Draft Ben Carson for President effort.
Local House Rep. Mark Costello was also in attendance and spoke to the crowd. He is running for reelection, unopposed.
The cost: Tickets were $25. There was also a silent auction with some interesting items, including a deck of George W. Bush playing cards.
Setting: The Elks Club in Shenandoah. Nice little venue. It worked well.
The food: Apricot chicken, ham, mashed potatoes, rolls, green beans, salad. The apricot chicken was delicious. Unfortunately, they ran out before Zaun staffer Ryan Keller could get a piece. He missed out and the rest of the campaign staffers (and insignificant bloggers) taunted him over it for the next hour. Good times.
The ham wasn’t great and the rolls were kind of hard. The mashed potatoes and green beans were both infused with bacon, which was the perfect touch. That applies to anything infused with bacon. Overall, it was a good meal, not a great one.
Candidate Speeches: Each candidate was allowed to talk for a maximum of five minutes, followed by a three-minute Q&A session, with questions coming from attendees. I liked the format.
Overall, perhaps surprisingly, U.S. Senate candidate Scott Schaben impressed me the most. That was mainly due to his response during the Q&A.
Below are my thoughts on each candidate’s performance, in the order they spoke:
U.S. Senate candidates
Sam Clovis: Without naming names, Clovis was critical of his opponents in the U.S. Senate race. He talked about the importance of vetting the candidates and noted that it’s “really important to find out what’s in the heart and soul of the individual”, and not just base your vote on what they say. Clovis noted that we are starting to see differences amongst the candidates “on the hard issues”, such as life and marriage.
Clovis was asked about recent comments made by North Korea’s Kim Jung Un. While not sure exactly what comments the questioner was referring to, Clovis stated that he believes the totalitarian state will eventually implode, while our ally and trade partner South Korea is thriving.
Joni Ernst: Ernst represents Fremont and Page counties in the Iowa State. She noted that she has been away from home for about two weeks. Unfortunately, she brought neither the motorcycle or leather jacket, but told me later that she’d be out riding on Sunday.
Ernst gave her standard “Mother, soldier, conservative” spiel and talked about her conservative record. She noted that she believes in one-man, one-woman marriage.
During the Q&A, Ernst deftly avoided a question from an elderly lady regarding what to do about “all the Mexicans”, by steering the comment toward “immigration”. She also said we need a Republican senate and Republican president in order to go after the IRS.
Scott Schaben: Schaben, the longest of long shots in the U.S. Senate race, has really improved as this campaign has gone on. He was outstanding at this event.
Schaben didn’t name names, but went after some his Republican opponents pretty hard. For instance, “If someone’s trying to convince you they can turn a business around just by yourselves, they’re not being honest or they need a lesson in being humble.“
Schaben also said we need a candidate who will do more than “provide lip service for Republican talking points”. He mentioned that liberal Senator Tom Harkin referred to Obamacare a few days ago as “a hunting dog with fleas”. Schaben said it’s actually a hunting dog with rabies, and like a dog with rabies, needs to be put down.
During the Q&A, Schaben was asked how Iowans can trust him to represent them in the senate and not just become another Republican rubberstamp. He used the opportunity to slam the other senate candidates who did not show up for the event, noting that just over half the candidates were present. Schaben said this campaign is not a hobby or a part-time job for him, it’s a full-time effort.
“Who are you going to be able to trust to not sell out the state of Iowa? Who are you going to be able to trust to come down to Fremont County on a Saturday night before Mother’s Day?” Schaben asked.
He then talked about his mom and noted he looks at everything through the prism of what his mother would think. This was really great stuff from Scott Schaben. When he was done, I believed him when he said he would not sell out Iowans. And I don’t convince easily.
U.S. House candidates
Robert Cramer: The bridge builder stuck with his standard stump speech, talking about how he wants to connect reality to Washington, D.C.
He was asked if he supported the Obama stimulus package. Cramer said, “No”, and noted that less than 5 percent of the stimulus money went to working on roads and bridges.
He noted that the top three bridge builders in Iowa all live in the same school district.
Monte Shaw: Shaw talked about growing up in the area and his campaign ads featuring his family. He said Republicans must hold this seat in order to prevent Nancy Pelosi from regaining the title of Speaker of the House.
Shaw also noted we need to elect a candidate “who can stand up to scrutiny, who can weather that storm”. He also said we need someone who can work with others and it’s not enough to just say no all the time.
During the Q&A, he was asked about Benghazi. Referencing Hillary Clinton’s “what difference does it make comments,” Shaw said it makes all the difference in the world to the families of the victims of the attack. He also noted we need to get to the bottom of the Fast and Furious and IRS scandals.
Brad Zaun: Zaun scored immediately by saying, “I want to say Happy Mothers Day to all the moms out there.” It might have been a pander line, but half the women in the room went, “Awww.” So, pander or not, it worked very well.
Zaun gave his standard speech about his background, noting we need to have a business person, “someone who can read a balance sheet”.
Zaun was asked about Social Security and Medicare. He said Congress is just “kicking the can down the road”. Zaun noted that he would not support any changes that would affect those who are near to or currently receiving Social Security, but said we need to have a conversation with younger people about what their future looks like. He also noted that Medicare is ripe with fraud and waste.
Zaun was also asked if he is pro-union or anti-union? He said he I believes in the right to work status, noting that he doesn’t have any problems with hardworking union members, but does have a problem with union bosses who abuse their power.
Crowd reaction: Like a lot of Republicans, the folks at this dinner are still undecided on who they’re voting for in both of these races. One lady told me she’s been a longtime supporter of Joni Ernst, but added, “How can you not love Sam Clovis?” She said her decision will probably be made in the voting booth.
Others praised the field of candidates and said they’re still not certain who to go with.
Overall: I had low expectations going in, because I was not sure which candidates would attend. Overall, it was a good event, solid meal and interesting discussion with the candidates. Well done, Fremont County GOP.
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