The Republican Party of Iowa held its annual Lincoln Dinner on Friday in downtown Cedar Rapids. 2012 Republican vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan was the keynote speaker. Several candidates for the U.S. House and U.S. Senate were on hand, or had surrogates speak on their behalf.
Here are my thoughts, insights and a few videos from the event:
The emcee: RPI chose Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett to oversee the proceedings. He did fine, especially making sure all the candidates stayed within their allotted three minutes. Corbett kept the proceedings moving at a brisk pace.
The only stumble I can recall is when he called Mariannette Miller-Meeks “Mariannetta”, more than once. Corbett is not the first to stumble on her name and surely won’t be the last.
The setting: It was held at the Cedar Rapids Convention Complex. It was a nice venue for the event. Plenty of space and classy. It’s not as nice as the Polk County Convention Complex, but it’s nice.
A dozen or so paid union protestors, joined by former Iowa Speaker of the House and current congressional candidate Pat Murphy, were protesting across the street, which provided some extra amusement for attendees.
The food: Chicken, cheesy scalloped potatoes, vegetables, a salad and dinner rolls. The chicken and potatoes were excellent, as were the desserts: strawberry cheesecake or chocolate brownie cake. Overall, it was a very tasty meal. Plus, with all the empty seats, there were plenty of extra desserts for those who chose to partake.
The booths: All the U.S. Senate campaigns had booths in the reception area, as did congressional candidates Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Rod Blum, and Governor Branstad. Auditor Mary Mosiman shared her table with Secretary of State candidate Paul Pate. The Draft Ben Carson movement and “Unfair” movie promoters also purchased booths.
The crowd: They set up the room for 400 people (40 tables with 10 chairs apiece), but not many tables were completely filled. I would estimate there were around 325 people there. Many of those attendees included staffers from various campaigns.
There were a few State Central Committee members on hand, a few state legislators and I believe one table of College Republicans. Otherwise, the audience was mostly longtime eastern Iowa activists. The “liberty” crowd had a very small contingent, as well.
Most notable dignitary: Senator Grassley made the trip down for the event, but did not take the stage. I feel this was a huge missed opportunity for the Iowa GOP. Letting Grassley publicly discuss Bruce Braley’s ridiculous slight of him and Iowa farmers would have garnered major media coverage the next day and throughout the weekend. I realize there was a full slate of speakers, but there’s always room for Chuck Grassley.
Lackluster audience: Unfortunately, except for a huge ovation for Grassley, the crowd was completely lacking in enthusiasm for much of the event. Until…
Best speeches: Thank goodness for Mariannette Miller-Meeks. The fiery, diminutive congressional hopeful woke the audience up with a strong three-minute speech. Of all the candidates, Miller-Meeks gave the best speech, by far.
Former Iowa House Rep. Jeff Kaufmann delivered the best speech overall. Kaufmann talked on behalf of Governor Branstad and Lt. Governor Reynolds who were unable to make it due to previous commitments (Branstad was at a Character Counts event and Reynolds was out of the of the country on a trade mission). Kaufmann is known for strong oratory skills and he displayed those Friday night.
U.S. Senate candidate speeches: I thought Sam Clovis’ speech was the best, followed by Mark Jacobs. Clovis talked about what it means to be a Republican. It was the right setting for that type of speech. He was the only senate candidate to receive applause during his speech.
I thought Mark Jacobs speech was good, too. He tied Bruce Braley to the Obama economy and ripped the Dems nominee-to-be three or four times.
Joni Ernst and Matt Whitaker delivered their fairly standard stump speeches. A surrogate spoke on behalf of Scott Schaben, who was attending a Greene County GOP fundraiser that he has committed to prior to the RPI event being announced.
Congressional candidate speeches: The only other congressional candidates, besides the aforementioned Mariannette Miller-Meeks, were First District candidate Gail Boliver and Third District candidate Brad Zaun. Boliver’s speech was forgettable and Zaun did his usual stump speech.
I’m not sure this was the best use of campaign resources for Zaun. There were not many Third District voters in attendance and the cost of purchasing a table and speaking likely outweighed any benefits.
Auditor Mary Mosiman and gubernatorial hopeful Tom Hoefling were the only statewide candidates in attendance.
Irrelevant Line of the Night: As he was introducing Congressman Ryan, who is a native of Janesville, Wisconsin, Mayor Corbett provided this piece of useless information: “They’ve got great show choir in Janesville.”
Best Line of the Night: From Paul Ryan, after talking about Iowa native Norman Borlaug’s impact on our country and the newly-dedicated Borlaug statue at the U.S. Capitol: “When I go by that statue, which I pass probably eight times a day, it’s right where we go to vote, it makes me think of other Iowa leaders and their potential. Heck, imagine what Chuck Grassley would have done with his life if only he had a law degree.” (10:00 minute mark in the video below)
Paul Ryan: The keynote speaker delivered a very well received speech. Ryan started off with some comedy, noting that now that he is famous, he gets confused with other famous politicians. The Wisconsin congressman recounted one person mistaking him for Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Another thought he was Anthony Weiner. That earned some big laughs.
Ryan spent most of the second half of his 20-minute speech talking about the necessity for the Republican Party to come together.
“Let’s try to give up the infighting, let’s give up the tunnel vision, let’s give up the acrimony,” Ryan said.
He noted that all of the U.S. Senate candidates on the stage talked about the same ideals, principles and policies.
“Pick the person you like the best. Fight really hard for that candidate and at the end, afterwards….unify. Unify,” Ryan said to applause from the crowd.
Ryan believes the disagreements in the GOP are more about tactics than ideas. He says getting legislation passed that will change things requires a huge effort.
“The answer lies in the hard work of politics. Better arguments, better alternatives, better outreach,” the Wisconsin congressman said. “More focus on persuading, less focus on purging.
Paul Ryan delivered the exact type of message that is necessary for Iowa Republicans with a big primary election looming in a month and a half. It will require a huge team effort to win in November. The timing of the speech, only 20 minutes, was excellent as well.
Overall: RPI did not put nearly as much effort into promoting this event as they did when Rand Paul and Ted Cruz were headlining their dinners. That lack of effort showed in the smaller crowd number. It’s doubtful RPI will raise a lot of money from this dinner.
There were a few glitches, most notably RPI’s off-kilter logo displayed on two big screens on the stage:
However, it was a good event overall. The crowd’s enthusiasm picked up in the second half and the event ended in a timely manner, around 8:30. A lot of attendees were fearing a long night due to all the candidate speeches.
Paul Ryan was a very gracious headliner. Along with delivering a good speech, he stopped to chat and take pictures with numerous attendees and met with the media afterwards. Everyone I spoke with afterwards talked positively about Ryan’s speech and the event overall.
Photo by Dave Davidson, Prezography.com
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