The clear winner on Saturday night was the Republican Party of Iowa, which hosted eleven 2016 presidential candidates at its annual Lincoln Day Dinner. Nearly 1,400 Iowa Republicans attended the event, and 38 county Republican organizations purchased tables at the event, a record level of participation.
Saturday’s dinner could have easily been a five-hour-long speech fest, but the Iowa GOP wisely limited the candidates to a strict 10-minute speech allotment, and besides the 2016 candidates, Senator Chuck Grassley was the only elected official allowed to take the stage. The efficient event ran ahead of schedule, and the candidate receptions afterwards were once again a big hit.
All the candidates did well for themselves on Saturday night, but I thought five candidates stood out for various reasons.
No Reason for Jeb to Run from Iowa.
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush dominated the headlines last week, but not in a good way. On Saturday night, I thought Bush was one of the clear winners. While his speech seemed rushed, and thus he spoke over many would-be applause lines, touting his accomplishments as Governor achieved an important objective.
Despite all that’s been said or written about Bush, his record in Florida is full of conservative accomplishments. If anyone in the 2012 race should proudly run on his record it is Jeb Bush. Bush’s light itinerary in Iowa has left activists to start making assumptions about where he stands on a multitude of issues. Re-educating Iowans on his conservative credentials is crucial to his success.
It was smart for Bush to tout his efforts to cut taxes and reduce the size of Florida’s government, while increasing the state’s credit rating. But Bush also reminded Iowans that he has a record of protecting the most vulnerable, including the unborn. He also reminded Iowans that he received an “A” rating from the NRA, in part because, as Governor, he signed into law concealed carry and stand your ground legislation.
While his delivery was rushed, Bush’s content was excellent on Saturday night. More impressive was the time he spent in his reception room meeting Iowa activists who attended the event. Bush was one of the last candidates to leave on Saturday night. He essentially waited until he shook every hand. He also had a light moment with South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham who popped in to say hello. Bush exited at 9:55 p.m., a half hour after the receptions were set to end. He did himself a lot of good on Saturday night.
Hear Carly Roar.
Carly Fiorina didn’t provide any new content on Saturday night. It was evident that she didn’t need to. It’s clear that Fiorina has perfected her stump speech, but the Lincoln Dinner provided her with a tailor made audience. Just like Texas Senator Ted Cruz gets conservative crowds riled up in Iowa, Fiorina found the sweet spot on Saturday night. How good was it? Well, even having the microphone cut off mid-sentence seemed to help Fiorina. The crowd groaned when the microphone was cut off and the music started playing because her allotted ten minutes were over.
Yes, Fiorina was quick to criticize Hillary Clinton, and her best line of the night referenced Bill Clinton’s extracurricular activities with a White House intern named Monica Lewinski. However, for every clever on-liner, she is also provides a plenty of serious content. Iowa Republicans are not just amused by the only female on the stage, they are taking her very seriously, and many already have her on their short list of candidates.
Was Walker a One-Hit Wonder?
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker burst onto the scenes in Iowa back in January with a passionate speech at Congressman Steve King’s Iowa Freedom Summit. Since then, I’ve now seen Walker speak at three different events. Walker’s content is fine, but gone is the enthusiasm he initially had.
Walker scores his points by being relatable to Republican caucus goers. On the video screens as Walker took the stage, there was a photo of him and his brother holding an Iowa flag when he was seven-years-old. Rarely does Walker miss an opportunity to remind people that he lived in Iowa for a few years during his childhood.
Walker’s working class background also makes him relatable to the voters he’s trying to win over. In the past, Walker has talked about shopping at Kohl’s department store or reminisced about his time working at a local McDonalds. On Saturday night, Walker’s blue collar roots were on display in his hospitality suite after the event.
Walker went all out. In addition to having a Harley Davidson on display and disc jockeys playing music and handing out door prizes, Walker and his staff adorned themselves in red aprons and passed out cold beer, Wisconsin cheese, and ice cream. Walker’s room was a popular spot on Saturday night. His speech might not have fired up the audience, but he seems a natural when it comes to his ability to connect to Iowans in a casual setting.
Rick Perry, My 2016 Dark Horse.
I thought Perry benefitted by being the forth candidate to take the stage on Saturday night. The three candidates who spoke before him, Rick Santorum, Dr. Ben Carson, and Bobby Jindal, offered a gloomy forecast compared to Perry’s new, optimistic outlook for America.
Speeches like the one Perry gave on Saturday night are critical for him, because it proved that the problems he experienced in his 2012 campaign were an aberration. If Perry continues to impress people on the stump, he is someone who could do incredibly well in Iowa. Perry appeals to a wide cross-section of voters in Iowa, and has a stellar list of accomplishments to brag about. If one of the current frontrunners stumbles, a guy like Rick Perry may be the biggest benefactor.
Rand Runs Away With the Day.
Kentucky Senator Rand Paul flexed some organization muscle on Saturday by putting on some impressive events in Southeast Iowa, a place where not many candidates spend much time campaigning. Paul drew big crowds in Burlington, Fairfield, and Pella before making his way to Des Moines for the Lincoln Dinner. Paul didn’t work the crowd or host a reception afterwards, but he gave an interesting speech, and no matter how you slice it, he had a heck of a day in Iowa.
Rick Santorum was the first presidential candidate to speak on Saturday night. Santorum didn’t earn much reaction from the audience, but to be honest it was a pretty tough room. Rick Perry, Carly Fiorina, and Lindsey Graham got the most response out of the audience.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has done well with large audiences as of late. Of all the candidates, it was Jindal who used the opportunity to talk about religious liberty, which drew the most applause in his speech.
It’s hard to believe, but South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham has been an audience favorite at events in Iowa this year. Graham is incredibly funny, but he also has a way to quickly pivot and be dead serious. Graham gave the perfect defense for George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, saying that it’s President Obama who has squandered all of the advances that were made with the surge.
The audience really tuned in to Dr. Ben Carson, who used the opportunity to make the case why it’s not necessary to nominate someone with a lot of political experience. People like Carson, but he needs to do more to sell himself to them.
Donald Trump, scored some points by saying that it was a shame that they cut Carly Fiorina’s microphone because she went over her time allotment. Trump seems on track to make a June announcement, which he says will really surprise people. Most people will be surprised if he actually runs this time.
Former New York Governor George Pataki is the longest of long shots, but he’s taking his 2016 candidacy very seriously. Pataki seemed all set to run back in 2008, but was likely forced out by Rudy Giuliani tying up all the New York donors. Pataki would have been my pick to surprise in 2008, but eight years later, he has an even more difficult path to the Republican nomination.
Photo by Dave Davidson – Prezography.com