King’s “homecoming” features Brownback, Tancredo

Congressman Steve King’s Homecoming event in Odebolt was billed as a three-fer — three GOP presidential candidates would speak this Saturday night. Kansas Senator Sam Brownback and Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo did. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee didn’t.

"(Huckabee) called me last night," King told the crowd.  "…He wanted to be here.  He planned to be here but one thing went right and one thing went wrong.  Today is his wife’s birthday and the thing that went wrong was that he had a pipe break in his house and it flooded an entire floor, so he had the choice of being here with us while his wife celebrated her birthday alone, pulling up wet carpet, or being down there keeping peace in the family and so I endorse his judgement and express his regrets."

Brownback said something which I could not catch.

"I know.  I know.  The Senators aren’t very merciful when it comes to these things, but us House members, we’re forgiving Sam," King replied, referencing his congressional colleague, Tancredo.

The speeches started at about 7:30 p.m.  I had arrived in Odebolt two hours earlier and made a stop at Cubby’s, a convenience store.  I picked up a couple of bottles of water and waited in line behind Ken Uhl of Lawton, who was paying for his gas.

Uhl had been to a Tancredo event earlier in the day and he was wearing his Tancredo sticker right above the front pocket on his blue shirt. Uhl asked if the store would take a check and the clerk behind the counter replied, "Yes."

Uhl dug his checkbook out of his back pocket and began to write out the check.  The clerk behind the counter mentioned the Tancredo sticker and said: "I’ve been listening to that guy on the radio.  I like what he says."

Turns out the clerk is an immigrant from County Cork, Ireland who told Uhl he went about becoming an American citizen "the right way."

"I had to hire a lawyer,too," the clerk added.

Uhl, the Tancredo backer, suggested the Irishman would have saved himself a lot of time by just going to Mexico and getting a "coyote" to help him get into the U.S. 

Uhl, a 66-year-old retiree, has been a Tancredo backer since this spring and has put up a 4-foot-by-6-foot Tancredo sign on his property, which is near the air strip about a mile out of Lawton.  Once Tancredo and Uhl met up at the Odebolt Community Center, Uhl recounted his visit with the Irishman.

During a brief discussion before the event started, Tancredo told me he "constantly" encounters legal immigrants in Iowa who want to tell him their stories.  A couple of weeks ago in Mason City, Tancredo met a woman from Kenya who’s now a U.S. citizen.  He recounted the story during his speech later. 

Speaking of later, King’s turn at the microphone followed a few others, including Steve Rathje, the Republican businessman from Cedar Rapids who has announced he wants the GOP nomination to run against Tom Harkin.  (King made no mention of his own thoughts about challenging Harkin, nor did Rathje.)   

The pre-King speaker who got the loudest laughter from the crowd was Jim Treat of Storm Lake. Treat was called upon to offer the prayer before the meal.  "I didn’t miss the urinal," Treat began in explanation to the crowd.  "I spilled my lemonade." 

After dinner, King started out his remarks by joking about how he and Tancredo are often mistaken for the other. King talked about his "health bump" — the Bell’s Palsy.  "All of that’s gone," King said.  "It was a good dose of humility." 

King then told a joke involving the priest who leads the Catholic Church in Odebolt. King had asked the priest to pray for his humility and the priest asked King to pray for his as well. "Steve, you have an unfair advantage," King said the priest told him.  "You have a wife to take care of your humility."

King talked for about half an hour, then introduced Brownback to the crowd. This was the most memorable part of King’s intro: "I was sitting back in about row 23 on the airplane, on the aisle on the left side and I looked up there in about, oh, row 20 on the right side in the aisle seat…it was the back of Sam Brownback’s head…and he flips down his tray and pulls out this well-worn Bible and laid it out on that tray and he sat and he read through that, oh, I suppose, it was about 36 minutes, Sam…and then he carefully folded it back up and went on with the paperwork of a United States senator so I see that from behind the scenes…I’d like to ask you to welcome the senator from Kansas, the individual who has been willing to put his life and his faith on the line and ask you to support him for president.  A man from the Midwest.  A man who supports a lot of our values. Welcome Senator Sam Brownback."

Brownback told a few jokes about how fatigued Iowans are about the presidential race, and made sure the crowd knew it was his 28th trip to Iowa.  Brownback then talked up the Iowa Caucuses because he told the crowd it allows you to "shoe-leather your way" into the White House. 

Brownback talked a little bit about his own biography, referring to his role as the national vice president of the Future Farmers of America and his travels through Iowa in that capacity. (No word on where his blue corduroy coat is.)  He talked about hsi family. He mentioned growing up on a Kansas farm — a farm that is now water-logged.

Brownback jokingly promised that he’s sending rain Iowa’s way.  "We got some of your rain and we want to send it your way," Brownback said. (He’s from waterlogged Kansas.)  Brownback said if it rained within 24 hours, he wanted every person in the crowd to vote for him at the Straw Poll. (It did not rain within 24 hours, BTW.)

Brownback got laughter from the crowd when he talked about growing up in a home that was on a party-line telephone (8 homes were on the same line). "There were no secrets in Parker, Kansas," Brownback said, adding a few more memories of his childhood."…I’m getting to a point here.  At my heart and soul, what I think we have to do in this country…to win war on Islamic facism, is I believe we have to rebuild the basics in the United States.  I think we have to rebuild the family.  I think we have to rebuild the culture in this country…I don’t lust after the job or the power of the presidency but I think we’ve got to get this right."

He talked about the war, and told the crowd he was reading "Osama bin Laden’s best speeches."  According to Brownback, they’re in "hit classic form" on the Internet.

Next, Brownback revealed that he’d been student body president at Kansas State and he told a few K-State football jokes (bumper sticker:  I-70, K-State 0) before talking about "rebuilding the line" in America. 

"The separation of church from state was to protect the church from the state," Brownback said, to applause.

Brownback apologized to the crowd for wearing his purple "Relay for Life" t-shirt (He participated in a fundraiser in Ida Grove earlier in the day).  Then he talked about having cancer (melanoma) in 1995 and how it deepenend his faith.  (Read the Radio Iowa story to see more, and see Tancredo’s response.)

He talked about border security in one sentence, then recapped his priority issues to "rebuild the culture" before concluding with a hard pitch for support in the Straw Poll.

"I haven’t heard hardly anybody on our side who is satisfied with the frontrunners and you guys can made a new series of frontrunners and you can give us some light.  You’re the ones that can do it," Brownback told the crowd.  "…Don’t nominate somebody who doesn’t agree on the principles." 

King took the mic back, and since Brownback had spent no time talking about the abortion issue, King asked Brownback what kind of Supreme Court justices he’d appoint.

"I want to be the president who appoints the justice that overturns Roe versus Wade," Brownback said, to applause from the crowd, as he walked out of the room.

King next talked about what he called the "basics" about the Democratic Party’s frontrunner.  "Do you remember when Hillary Clinton lectured us all and said it was a vast, right-wing conspiracy?  You know, science proved it wasn’t," King told the crowd.  "One could only conclude either she believed Bill and no other woman in America did or else she just looked at us and lied to us and in either case, I don’t think that would qualify her to be the next president of the United States."

King then gave his introduction of Tancredo, mentioning that Tancredo had been to Odebolt last fall for King’s pheasant hunt.  He also talked about their "bond" in congress, and their fights on immigration. 

"It is an easy thing to go to work every day with Tom Tancredo at my side," King said. 

The crowd stood up and applauded as Tancredo accepted the mic.

"It is really his fault that I’m in this situation, running for president, because what happened is exactly what he was telling you earlier.  We each get interviewed by members of the media and we’re about halfway in when we realize they’re thinking they’re interviewing the other guy and so one time, not too long ago, maybe four or five months ago, somebody was interviewing Steve and about halfway through he said ‘I"m going to run for president,’ and they thought it was me and they printed it, so what could I do?" Tancredo began, as the crowd laughed.

Tancredo praised the crowd for working to defeat the immigration reform bill in the U.S. Senate and spent the majority of his speech on that subject, covering much of the ground he’s covered in other forums.

"When you look at 14 percent approval ratings for the congress of the United States, 20-some percent for the president — lowest in the history of poll-taking, right?  It’s not just dangerous for incumbents. It’s dangerous, I think, for the republic.  I really do," Tancredo said.  "When you have this much of a disconnect between the people and their government…I know the frustration.  I feel it myself…I’m not sure if I’d been asked the same question by the pollster I wouldn’t have given the same response because, of course, there has been a lack of connection between Americans and their government."

Tancredo talked about speaking this past week at the NAACP meeting in Detroit. He was the only Republican candidate to accept the invitation. Tancredo talked about getting in a cab to go to the venue and talking with the cab driver, who was from the Ivory Coast and who’s preparing to be sworn in as a U.S. citizen on July 19th. Tancredo told the crowd he’s promised the cab driver that if it’s possible, he will attend that ceremony this coming week.

"Somebody who wants to become an American, who has worked his way through the process, who is learning the language," Tancredo said of the cab driver.  "…The people who are doing it the right way, God bless them for it…because they respected our laws."

Tancredo told a story about meeting a woman from Kenya in Mason City, a woman who recently became a U.S. citizen. Tancredo said the woman told him he was "absolutely right" about Miami.  (Tancredo has referred to Miami as a "third world country.")

Tancredo made a reference to Republican candidate Ron Paul, but did not refer to Paul by name. "One of our colleagues who is running for this, who is running for the office of the president, of the Republican Party, said yesterday that he thinks that, you know, the United States government is actually going to create some event, terrorist event, and blame is on the radical Islamists and the thing is, there are people who believe that," Tancredo said, putting emphasis on the word believe. "This goes back to this loss of faith in our own government, that people would believe such a thing, that government itself is planning some kind of event and that we’re going to try to force Iran and try to make something happen so we can go to war with Iraq? I don’t believe it’s true.  I absolutely do not believe this is true, but people will.  We have a disconnect in many ways.  We have to bring people back together."

Tancredo concluded by saying he cannot promise and will not promise to solve every single problem or "cure every disease" — a reference to Brownback’s declaration.  (Full quote is in the Radio Iowa story)

The event was held in Odebolt’s Community Center, a former Ford garage which has been converted into a venue for wedding receptions, meetings and the daily gathering of elderly folks in Odebolt who eat their "congregate meals" there. I learned this from Steve, one of the two barkeeps for the night. He bought me a Diet coke and pointed out the murals on the east wall. One of the murals features a painting that maintains perspective — so the old Odebolt Depot’s railroad tracks appear to be following you as you move from front to back of the hall. His daughter, Kade, asked that he tell me about that as we chatted about Odebolt before the event got going. Steve at one time was a Cracker Jack employee, no pun intended.  Cracker Jack had a popcorn processing building in Odebolt.   So the caramel corn you ate out of that Cracker Jack box in your youth may have come from Odebolt, Iowa. 

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.


  1. I just lost whatever respect I had for Tancredo. He’s right on immigration, but he’s wrong on everything else.