Senator Joni Ernst has successfully replicated the Harkin Steak Fry with her Roast and Ride that was held at the Central Iowa Expo grounds in Boone, Iowa. While the event was reminiscent of her predecessor’s high profile annual event, Ernst’s Roast and Ride was the perfect blend of her military background, affection for her motorcycle, and her rural Iowa roots.
Ringed by stacks of hay bales and white fencing, the crowd of 1,500 set up their lawn chairs to listen to the Nadas, a Des Moines-based band, and eventually seven Republican presidential candidates. The crowd was an interesting mix. Half were leather-clad patriotic bikers. The other half was comprised of older voters. Both groups adored Ernst and displayed their love of country on Saturday.
Ernst’s Roast & Ride catered to a different crowd than the previous multi-candidate events in Iowa. Not only was it great to have an event that was tailor made for motorcycle enthusiasts and military veterans, but it was also refreshing to have a casual outdoor event that allowed people to see the presidential contenders in a much more relaxed environment.
It’s hard to know how successful the event was financially, but the concept is one that you can easily see becoming a much-anticipated annual event. Senator Ernst must feel great about the event she and her team were able to pull off.
Roast and Ride Takeaways
The day belonged to Rick Perry. Perry’s campaign put a lot of time and effort into the former Texas Governor’s first day in Iowa as an officially announced 2016 presidential candidate. Perry organized his own ride from Perry, Iowa, to Boone, which featured some notable American heroes like Medal of Honor Recipient Mike Thornton, as well as Marcus Luttrell, the retired Navy SEAL who the book and movie Lone Survivor was based on. Also in attendance was Taya Kyle, widow of Chris Kyle, the most lethal sniper in U.S. history and author of American Sniper. Perry’s day began with a fundraiser for the Puppy Jake Foundation, an Iowa charitable foundation that places service dogs with wounded combat veterans at no charge.
Perry’s entourage on Saturday was impressive, but so to was his showing at Ernst’s event. Perry, the first of the 2016 presidential candidates to speak, set the bar high. The former Texas Governor ran from the barn in the background to the stage and gave an energetic speech that was by far the most optimistic speech of the day. TheIowaRepublican.com interviewed Perry on Saturday morning. We will have more coverage of him from this weekend tomorrow.
Ernst’s Roast and Ride was tailor-made for Walker, a motorcycle enthusiast from a neighboring state which just happens to be the home of Harley Davidson. Walker reaped the benefits of being the only presidential hopeful who rode with Ernst to Boone from Des Moines. For that reason alone, it’s understandable why Politico would say that Walker won the day in their recap of the event. The reason I ranked Perry ahead of Walker was that the Perry campaign deserves credit for organizing and pulling off a significant event all on their own.
The majority of Walker’s speech was once again heavily biographical. Walker, who has yet to formally announce his candidacy, is still in the process of introducing himself to Iowa caucus goers. While Walker didn’t tout his accomplishments like Governor Perry did on Saturday, I thought he was smart to add a personal tie-in when talking about President Obama’s recent negotiations with Iran.
In talking about Iran, Walker mentioned a childhood friend, a Marine by the name of Kevin Hermening, who was held hostage in Iran for 444 days. “As I look back talking to Kevin and others, I realize that Iran hasn’t changed. So why are we we doing business with them?”
Iowa Republicans are looking for a positive message. One of the common themes I heard when talking to people after the event is that they wished the candidates were a little more optimistic with their remarks.
Lindsey Graham talked about how we need to realize that we are going to have to raise the retirement age for Social Security and tax high wage earners more.
Marco Rubio told the audience that some college degrees are worthless. I get the point he is making, and while I find my BA in political science and history useful, degrees like this are not necessarily practical when you don’t go into teaching.
Mike Huckabee told the audience that the American government lied to them when it promised that the money it took for Social Security and Medicare would be there when they turn 65.
I think this is a valid point. People are well aware of this and the problems facing the country, but its not all that inspiring to listen to speech after speech about how bad things are.
Fiorina and Graham continue to stand out. If you are currently polling near the bottom of the presidential field, I don’t know how or why you would skip out on a chance to speak to a large audience. Carly Fiorina and Graham routinely do themselves good by taking every opportunity to speak to large assembled audiences. It’s not that I wanted to listen to 14 or 15 candidates on Saturday, but if you are Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum, or even George Pataki or Ohio Governor John Kasich, why not take advantage of the big stage?
Grassley thrilled to be working with Ernst in U.S. Senate. I had the opportunity to chat briefly with Senator Grassley on Saturday. Grassley told me how much he enjoys working with Ernst. He admitted that they might not always agree on every issue, but he likes having someone to work with on a number of issues. He said that he and Harkin were cordial, but only worked together on issues that were important to the state of Iowa.
Rubio gives strong justification for his candidacy. I thought that Rubio’s speech started a little slow, but he absolutely nailed it when he gave his justification for why he is running for president. It was some of the best speechmaking I’ve heard in Iowa. He’s used similar language when announcing his candidacy back in April, but I thought it worked incredibly well at a multi-candidate event.
Carson is well liked, but underwhelming. Carson had a plane to catch, and Rubio helped him out by letting the renowned neurosurgeon take his speaking spot. Still, Carson checked his watch multiple times. It’s clear that Carson is liked by Iowa caucus-goers, but in his speech, he neither touted his impressive background or talked about how he, a political outsider, would address the problems facing the country. I and others I talked to found Carson to be surprisingly underwhelming.
Huckabee sings a different tune. Huckabee was the final speaker to take the stage. In his remarks, he stressed his desire to not only scrap the current tax code, but also to eliminate the entire IRS by adopting the Fair Fax. Huckabee also spent considerable time talking about America’s moral obligation to uphold the compact it made with Americans by not increasing the retirement age.
Huckabee’s focus on social security benefits runs counter to most of his competitors who favor entitlement reform. That makes for an interesting dynamic as it was apparent that it took Huckabee a while to connect with the audience, which is odd for a talented communicator like him. Politically, what Huckabee is attempting to do is actually very savvy, but a multi-candidate event might not be the best place to attempt to do it.
Photos by Dave Davidson – Prezography.com