Over 700 people are gathered in a large banquet hall connected to Hy-Vee corporate headquarters in West Des Moines for a fundraiser for Republican gubernatorial candidate Terry Branstad. Tonight’s keynote speaker is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. A prayer has been said; the Pledge has been said; Amazing Grace and The Star Spangled Banner have been sung. The crowd, at 6:21 p.m., begins to eat.
At 6:47 p.m. the master of ceremonies, Mark Pearson of WHO Radio & Iowa Public Television’s Market to Market, returned to the microphone to being the program. First speech of the evening comes from state Senator Kim Reynolds, Branstad’s lieutenant governor/running mate. Reynolds thanked the crowd for their donations, saying it would be used to fight the “negative, smear attacks that will be hurled against us.”
Reynolds’ voice rose as she made her next point: “We cannot stop and we cannot become complacent.” She gave a short speech, similar to what she says on the campaign trail, wrapping up at 6:54 p.m.
The event chairman of the evening, agribusinessman Bruce Rastetter, is up next, telling the crowd the 2010 Branstad campaign has over 12,000 individual contributors on its donor list.
Branstad is behind the microphone at 6:57 p.m. “This is a total sell-out,” Branstad said to start, then he introduced the family (actually just the granddaughters). “It is a really exciting time. I’m really pleased and honored you’re here…Help is on the way. Iowa Republicans are energized and motivated and we are going to take back control of the direction of this state.”
Branstad amended Rastetter’s figure and told the crowd his campaign is nearing the level of 13,000 individual donors. “That’s the biggest we’ve ever had,” Branstad said, adding tonight is the biggest fundraiser he’s ever had in his five gubernatorial campaigns (in1982, ’86, ’90 and ’94 as well as 2010).
At 7:03 p.m. Branstad begins his introduction of Christie, saying Christie took over a state that was “mired in deep, deep dodoo, as they say….Since he was elected, he has done exactly what he said he would do…Here’s a man of great leadership and fortitude…He has reformed and cleaned up the corrupt mess that was the State of New Jersey. He is the model of what a Republican leader and a Republican governor can do.”
At 7:05 p.m. the lights in the hall came up as the crowd stands to applaud Christie’s entrance, then were dimmed as the applause dies down. “I just happened to be in the neighborhood, so we decided to stop by,” Christie joked. “…When a leader like Governor Terry Branstad calls and asks for your help, first, you kind of pinch yourself…and second, you say to yourself, ‘You’re got to answer that call.’”
Christie joked that Iowa and New Jersey are “a little bit different.”
“We are called ‘The Garden State’…and we have a great tradition in New Jersey of a great ag economy and so that’s a similarity,” he said. “I think that’s about where it ends.”
There were some chuckles, then Christie continued. “In Iowa, you have a failed Democratic governor. In New Jersey, we used to have a failed Democratic governor. In Iowa, you used to have an economy that was much better under Republican leadership than it’s been under Democratic leadership,” he said, adding New Jersey’s economy is getting better since he’s been governor.
“And the problems that Governor Branstad is going to inherit…are very similar to the ones we inherited,” Christie said.
Christie told the crowd it may have been “a bit of a surprise” that he was elected governor last November. New Jersey, he said, was a state that had 700,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans. No Republican had been elected to statewide office in 12 year and a Republican has not been elected a U.S. Senator in New Jersey since 1972.
“But what people didn’t understand was how New Jersey was changing and how America is changing…The people of my state allowed Democratic politicians to pander to them, tell them they could have something for nothing…and what they learned…was that simply wasn’t true.”
Christie told stories about well-publicized budget battles in New Jersey, repeating his rather infamous declaration when told Democrats in the legislature were prepared to shut New Jersey state government down: “I’m going to order a pizza and open a beer and turn on the Mets…I think the people of New Jersey will be relieved that this government has closed down for a while.”
Christie told the crowd the budget battle had been resolved without a tax increase. “For the first time in a long time, New Jersians were saved,” he said.
Christie got applause when he talked about cutting “public sector jobs” in New Jersey. “Here, here!” one man in the back said, as the crowd clapped.
Next topic: what Christie described as his ”special relationship with the New Jersey Teachers Union” and the “boatload” of benefits unionized teachers in his state have “from the day they’re hired to the day they die.”
Christie suggested teachers believe they are a “special class” who should be “sheltered from the ravages of this recession…And they tell me, ‘It’s for the kids.’”
“…They are flexing their political muscles and they want to stand up and fight against anybody that’s telling the truth,” Christie said.
Christie cited recent polling data which showed his approval rating in New Jersey is 58 percent, while the same poll found the New Jersey teachers union disapproval rating is 58 percent. The crowd applauded.
Christie launched into a bit of personal history: “I became a Republican in 1980 when I turned 18 years old…I sat in my dorm room at the University of Delaware and I took out that absentee ballot….I put a big ‘X’ in that box next to Ronald Reagan.”
“…It is put up or shut up time for the Republican Party…We lost our way a number of years ago. We did. We became ‘tax and spend light.’…If we don’t put up, if we don’t perform this time, the public is going to send us to the wilderness and they’re going to send us there for a long time and we’re going to deserve to be sent because they’re tired of being disappointed…They want you, even if it’s painful, to stand up and tell them the truth…And I think that’s why I’m being rewarded in New Jersey…and if we don’t do this in Iowa, if we don’t do this in New Jersey, what is this country going to be for our children and grandchildren?”
Electing GOP governors is “the single-surest way to bring overnight change to our country…a wildfire across this country of ideas…And that fire is going to be so hot that no matter what happens in Washington, D.C. , the heat will be so intense that that they will have to respond…and step up to the plate and stop all the craziness.”
Christie joked about the “unspeakable tragedy” of the name Chris Christie, then he soon wound down.
“I”m here in Iowa preaching to the choir so you’ll sing…about why this is such a key moment in American history and why this is such an important moment in the state.”
Speech over at 7:42 p.m. Listen to the 37-minute-long speech: mp3 of Christie.