Nine Republican presidential hopefuls attended the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition’s 15th Annual Spring Kickoff on Saturday evening in Waukee, Iowa. Another candidate, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, addressed the crowd with a short video message, and surrogates from most of the other candidates who did not attend also addressed the gathering of nearly 1000 activists.
The question on everyone’s mind after another marathon multi-candidate event is always, who won? Unfortunately it’s not that easy, especially when with such a large and diverse group of candidates. To be honest, it’s not necessarily fair to judge a candidate like Carly Fiorina straight up against Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Fiorina is a classic underdog and Cruz is a conservative favorite.
Instead trying to identify winners and loser, I think it’s more important to determine what each candidate tried to accomplish and whether or not they were successful. Every candidate had something different they were trying to accomplish on Saturday night.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio
All eyes were on Florida Senator Marco Rubio on Saturday night at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition’s 15th Annual Spring Kickoff. Rubio made his first trip to Iowa as an official presidential candidate over the weekend and was the first candidate to take the stage. The room was full of excitement as Rubio was announced, and the 43-year-old presidential candidate kept the energy up with one of the best-delivered speeches of the night.
Some of Rubio’s best lines included, “Government is no replacement for our churches, our families, and our homes,” and, “You can’t have a strong country without strong people, and you can’t have strong people without strong values.”
Rubio made a great first impression on Saturday, but to be a real factor in Iowa, he’s going to have to commit to doing the retail politicking that’s required in a state like Iowa.
Kentucky Senator Rand Paul
Paul was received well by the conservative audience. If one thing was made abundantly clear by the reception Paul received on Saturday night, it’s that he can make a play for the support of evangelical and socially conservative voters in a way that his father never could.
As expected, Senator Paul made a point to talk about the debate he had in the media with Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz on the topic of abortion. “I’m tired of us retreating on this issue, and I’m going to push back,” Paul declared. “I think we can win this argument,” he said. “I plan to be a big part of it. I’m going to keep talking about it.”
Not only was Paul smart to attend the event – it’s the first Iowa cattle call he has attended – but I thought he did exactly what he needed to do. Paul wasn’t one of the names that people were talking about after the event, but he surpassed every expectation I had for him at the event, and just being an acceptable choice of those in this crowd is a victory in and of itself.
Former Texas Governor Rick Perry
“It’s good to be in Dallas,” Perry said as he opened his speech. “Dallas County,” he added to laughter from the audience. Perry entered Iowa with all the trappings of a frontrunner in 2012, but he seems much more comfortable as an underdog for the 2016 race.
Perry spoke about second chances, and cited numerous examples from the Bible. From the reaction of the crowd, it seems like the environment is such that Iowans are open to giving Perry a second chance. Perry’s message is also much more positive.
“I’m so optimistic,” Perry said as he began to close his remarks. “Not of just the future of this country, but I’m optimistic about this world that we live in. You think about who we are, you think about where we’ve been. This is a resilient country. We’ve been through a civil war. We’ve been through two world wars. We’ve been through a great depression. We lived through Jimmy Carter, and we will make it through the Obama years I’ll promise you. This is our time to put America back on track. To again show the world that America and the American values we have are the future of the world and the savior of the world.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal
It kind of odd, but Jindal was probably one of the least known candidates to address the crown on Saturday night. Jindal doesn’t get the news coverage that a Cruz, Walker, or Paul receive, and Jindal did not participate in either the Iowa Freedom Summit or the Iowa Ag Summit. Jindal needs these big stages to become better known and impress activist. Not only was his speech was well received, but people were talking about him after the event. Mission accomplished.
Jindal is starting to turn some heads. Earlier this month, Jindal was well received at The FAMiLY Leader’s Southeast Iowa Regional event, and now he has accomplished the same in Waukee on Saturday night. Jindal has all the raw materials that make up a good presidential candidate, but one was beginning to wonder if he was capable of breaking through in a crowded Republican field. On Saturday night, he proved that he can.
Once again Fiorina used her time in the spotlight to criticize Hillary Clinton while highlighting her accomplishments. Fiorina panned Clinton’s road trip by telling the audience that she had logged 1222 miles in Iowa last week and spoken to over 2400 Iowans in 15 cities and towns. Her best line of the night, “I have to tell you, I will take Casey’s pizza in a car to Chipotle’s takeout any time,” Fiorina said, “My favorite is sausage, and I prefer to order and eat without my sunglasses on.”
Fiorina is well liked and respected by Iowa Republican activists. She may be a long shot, but she is going to be a surprise on caucus night if she keeps it up.
Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum
Santorum was greeted warmly, and if you watched closely, you might have noticed that these Iowans are proud of the fact that Santorum won the 2012 caucuses. It’s almost as if they are happy that Santorum was rewarded for his hard work and determination for the last campaign. Other candidates received more applause, but Santorum has earned the respect of Iowa Caucus goers. Santorum doesn’t need to work to earn their respect if he runs in 2016, he needs to convince them once again that he is deserving of their support.
Santorum used his time in front of 1000 conservative activists not to tout his conservative credentials, but to make the case for why he is the best suited to be the Republican nominee in 2016. Santorum reminded the audience that, while he eventually was credited with winning the Iowa caucuses, he didn’t get the win when it counted which would have given his campaign a boost.
Santorum argued that the media is wrong when they say he surged late and won Iowa. He then correctly pointed out that his surge actually occurred after the four early states, which is a good argument for him to make. Santorum surmised that the reason for his success was his blue-collar economic message. He warned that Republicans are stuck on a 35-year-old message on the economy, and they need to fine-tune their message in order to connect with the middle class.
Santorum started off on a good note by sharing a funny story about the last caucuses, and it was smart for him to use his previous successes make the case for himself in 2016. What I didn’t like is that his speech could have been entitled, “I told you so.” I don’t think you grow support by reminding people that you were right all the time. While I agree with the points he’s making, I think he needed to find a better way communicate them.
Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee
I was fascinated by the different reactions the audience had to the introductions of Huckabee and Santorum. While Santorum has earned the respect of Iowa caucus-goers, they still really like Huckabee. The polls bear this out, too. While Santorum finds himself back in the low single digits, Huckabee routinely polls near the top in Iowa.
As always, Huckabee used his down-home charm and story telling ability to connect to the audience. His message was simple – we must return power back to the people. He used this theme to talk about eliminating the federal Department of Education and eliminating the IRS by enacting the Fair Tax. Huckabee was the only candidate who really talked about major tax reform at the event.
Huckabee then warned the audience about the apparent hostility towards Christianity in America today. “Not just in our lifetime, but as never before in the history of this great nation, we are moving rapidly toward the criminalization of Christianity.” Huckabee blamed this phenomenon on the fact that too many people in the country suffer from a lack of knowledge.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz
No candidate excites Iowa conservatives like Cruz has over the past couple of years. Cruz’s speeches are loaded with red meat and applause lines. Cruz is the definition of a conservative firebrand. The similarities between Cruz and Congressman Steve King are endless. To many conservatives, he’s the fighter on the issues that they are passionate about. To others, he’s controversial.
Despite King’s standing among Iowa conservatives, he’s never been able to capitalize on that politically. Unlike Cruz, King has never sought higher office, but Cruz needs to hope that all those conservatives who cheer him on believe in him enough to support him over other less controversial candidates.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker
Walker is currently the clear frontrunner in Iowa. He draws a tremendous amount of interest amongst caucus-goers, and the only question is whether his campaign will harvest all of that interest into support. I thought Walker’s speech was a bit disjointed on Saturday night, but Walker hit his stride near the end of his remarks. TheIowaRepublican.com will have more on Walker’s weekend in Iowa tomorrow coming up this week.