This afternoon Rick Perry spoke at the headquarters of Nationwide Insurance in Des Moines, Iowa. Like many similar events going on around the state, this one gave Iowans the chance to see and hear from, and often talk to, the candidates up close.
I hung to the back of the room, both because I knew I had to escape ahead of the crowd to catch a radio hit, and because you tend to get into more interesting conversations back there. The mainstream media are usually nearby so you catch snippets of whatever they’re gossiping about, and you usually get the folks who have shown up to hear the speech but haven’t quite made up their minds yet. Today, I saw a pair of Ron Paul supporting bloggers comparing photos from a Paul event (decent sized crowd in a gym, though the cropping made it hard to tell just how far the crowd went) with this Perry event, which was empty when the bloggers snapped their photos but filled to standing room only by the time the speeches got underway. They seemed to be planning a snarky post, which will also be less than true to the facts as the Perry room at Nationwide did fill up. Being a back row Baptist has its uses.
I found myself holding up the back wall between Kevin and Scott, both Nationwide employees, mid-40s, and among the 43% or more Iowans who are undecided. Kevin, who says he caucused with the Democrats last time around just to see what it would be like, says he has yet to settle on a candidate because he is looking for someone to be presidential. He said we need someone who will lead and put the whole country first. He suggested that Obama has done neither. He complained that most of the nation’s good leaders are in the private sector, not politics. I pointed out that Mitt Romney touts his private sector experience, but Kevin seems to have already ruled Romney out.
Scott, on the other hand, described himself as a moderate looking for someone to “bring Congress together.” He elaborated, saying that today’s Congress’ failure to negotiate is frustrating. He faulted the Tea Party for being willing to shut the government down during budget negotiations in 2011, but also faulted Obama for a lack of leadership. He pointed ultimately to Reagan as a model who stood for what he believed in but managed to make deals with the opposition.
Both plan to caucus with the Republicans tonight, so they will cast their votes among the 120,000 or so who are expected to choose a nominee.
On the stage, first Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and then Gov. Perry spoke about the American dream and how Obama’s policies threaten it. Jindal described Perry’s leadership during crises, pointing to when Texas provided aircraft to assist in the BP oil spill while the federal government chose to shut down the clean-up due over a bureaucratic issue. Perry spent considerable time lauding fellow conservative governors Jindal, Sam Brownback of Kansas, Terry Brandstad of Iowa, and Suzana Martinez of New Mexico as governors who effectively use the states to experiment with policies that end up decreasing the power of government while boosting the private sector. Perry spent several minutes lauding veterans in the audience including former USMC Capt Dan Moran, who was seriously wounded in Iraq and has traveled from Texas to Iowa to be among the governor’s surrogates, and Congressional Medal of Honor recipient retired Gen. Jim Livingston. Perry waxed a bit religious toward the end, reciting the prophet Isaiah’s volunteerism when the call of duty comes, “Here am I, send me.” Perry closed, promising that if Iowans have his back in tonight’s caucuses, he will have their backs in Washington and work to make government less consequential in their lives.
After the speech as the applause died away, I turned to Kevin and asked, “What do you think? Was that presidential?”
“Yes,” he replied. “In parts.”
Who will he caucus for? He hasn’t decided yet.
Update: Perry started running this ad in Iowa today. It echoes many of the themes in the speech he is delivering around the state.