Pawlenty @ Iowa GOP event

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty

The crowd is entering a meeting hall on the Iowa State Fairgrounds at this hour.  Each ticket holder paid $25.  What do they get for $25?  A hot dog, a bag of chips, a cookie & a couple of hours-worth of political speeches.  Keynoter tonight is Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty who spent his morning (and perhaps part of the afternoon) hunting as it’s the opening weekend of deer season in Minnesota.  Sources say the governor “grazed” a deer, but he did not “bag” one (“bag” a deer, one of my male friends tells me, is the proper way to refer to the act).

It’s 5:35 p.m. and people are milling about, chatting.  Most of the chatting is about the gubernatorial campaign, as former Governor Terry Branstad will be making his first appearance on stage with the other men who’ve been campaigning for the GOP’s 2010 gubernatorial nomination for months.  That gubernatorial cattle call may upstage Pawlenty in terms of the Iowa audience.

AUIDO: Pawlenty Keynote Address

As for the venue for tonight’s event, the building on the Iowa State Fairgrounds has a storied political past.  It’s the building in which former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney “formally” announced his 2008 bid for the White House (after a speech earlier that day in his home state of Michigan, Romney flew to Iowa in a snowstorm and held an event here).

It’s also the building in which former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, Martin Sheen (playing President Josiah Bartlett on TV at the time), and Rob Reiner entered with great fanfare on the eve of the 2004 Iowa Caucuses for a big rally.  The huge door on the north end of this hall was opened, an RV drove through and the trio emerged from the vehicle to cheers from the crowd.

As for tonight’s event and its keynote speaker, the secretary of the Republican Party of Iowa says Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is a “star” in the party who will rise to contend for the GOP’s 2012 presidential nomination.  Bill Schickel, a former state legislator, is also the former mayor of Mason City, Iowa. (You can watch Austin, Minnesota TV in Mason City, BTW.)

“I think Governor Pawlenty is really someone to watch in the 2012 presidential election cycle,” Schickel told me this evening.  “I think he’s got the kind of profile that is very attractive.”

Schickel believes many in the crowd this evening will see Pawlenty for the first time. “You know he’s run a big state, but he’s also very likeable,” Schickel said.  “I think he’s a powerful combination.  I think he’s in the second tier of presidential candidates right now, but I really look for his star to rise.”

The event began a bit after six o’clock.  After the prayer & the pledge, the lights were dimmed so video messages from the two Republicans who hold statewide office could be seen on the big screens in front.  Iowa’s two Republican congressmen (Latham & King) were seen on the big screens, too, in a recorded message as they’re in DC right now in the midst of the health care debate.  King borrows a Steve Forbes staple, suggesting the health care bill should be killed with a wooden stake.

Another video, from a young Republican who’s a student at Drake — it’s an introduction for US Senator Chuck Grassley.  Grassley comes on stage, as a country and western song is played to get the crowd roused.

“Could we run that video again?” Grassley begins.  The crowd laughs.

Grassley discusses the “common focus” of Republicans, suggesting the party is “looking forward,” and casting a vision for the next year. “I hope that you feel the wind at our back right now that we haven’t felt for a long period of time…I’m very excited about the enthusiasm that is building in our party.”

Grassley mentions the gubernatorial victories in Virginia and New Jersey:  “It is now up to us Iowa Republicans to do our part to keep that trend going that is a rejection of the big-govt policies that are coming out of Washington.”

According to Grassley, Iowans are “scared.”

“They’re scared about what’s going on in Wasington right now…Yes, people at my town meetings are deeply concerned.”

Grassley gets applause when he mentions his attendance streak in the senate.  “I hope it shows you that it’s my way of showing you I respect the trust you placed in me,” Grassley said.

Grassley gets his biggest burst of applause when he starts a sentence with, “let me tell you flat out,” and concludes with an indictment of the “Pelosi bill” being considered in the US House this weekend.

“We are not for the status quo,” Grassley continued.  “…We believe that there are free market forces that can be unleashed to improve our health care system…and tort reform is a no-brainer.”  More applause.

“Hope and change have brought Americans fear.  Voters next fall will get to choose between more out of control spending…and restoring fiscal discipline,” Grassley said, reading from his prepared remarks.  “…It’s up to us when alternatives are needed to present th0se alternatives.  That is what tonight is all about…about coming together.”

“…Like you, I’m ready for the coming election…We Republicans are hope for a change that will end the fear that Amercans feel…We will win.”

It ends (Grassley’s speech, that is), and the chairman of this evening’s shindig enters to introduce the Republican Party of Iowa chairman, Matt Strawn.

Doug Reichart says he hosted a “little” house party for Governor Pawlenty earlier this evening.  “It felt like an old-fashioned Republican revival,” he said.

A brief snippet of the tune “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” was played and then Matt Strawn is behind the mic by 6:40 p.m.:  “It’s a great night to be a Republican.”

Strawn talks about the first district congressional race, the GOP victories in VA & NJ on Tuesday; former Iowa House Speaker Ron Corbett’s election on Tuesday as the Mayor-elect of Cedar Rapids, Iowa; plus the “intellectually lazy” Iowa Governor Chet Culver, a Democrat who intends to seek reelection in 2010.

“Help is on the way,” Strawn says, mentioning (only in general, not by name) the GOP gubernatorial candidates, then Strawn moves into an introduction of Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty.

At 6:48 p.m., Pawlenty is striding on stage as a Creedence Clearwater Revival song is played over the sound system.

“I got up at 3 a.m.,” Pawlenty begins, referencing his hunting expedition.  “Unfortunately, I was practicing a new conservation technique…called ‘shoot and release.'”

He begins with a recitation of Iowa GOP dignitaries, mentioned it was a “treat” to meet former Iowa Governor Bob Ray (he also mentioned he met former Governor Terry Branstad, although the remark was neutral as Branstad’s back in the fray, seeking a fifth term as governor in 2010).

At 6:51 p.m., Pawlenty mentions the movie “Talladega Nights,” referencing the scene at the dinner table when the main character, Ricky Bobby, is praying.

“He said, ‘Thank you, Lord, thank you for my red, hot, smokin’ wife,'” Pawlenty quotes, from the movie, adding that is how he feels like his own wife.

Pawlenty then joked about looking into the mirror and talking with his wife about his own receeding hairline and his flabby physique, asking her if there was anything positive she could tell him.

Pawlenty’s punchline, allegedly quoting his wife: “Yeah, there’s nothing wrong with your eyesight.”

The crowd laughed.

“It’s just a little story about seeing things clearly….We need to see things clearly not only for Iowa but for our beloved country,” Pawlenty said.

Tuesday’s election results signaled a “comeback in America” according to Pawlenty.

Pawlenty mentioned one of Barack Obama’s 2008 rallying cry, the “Fired Up? Ready to Go?” mantra.

“I want to ask you: ‘Are you fired up and ready to fight back?’

The crowd responded in the affirmative.

Pawlenty called the health care plan pending in the Democratically-led congress a “liberal monstrosity.”

Pawlenty said he was “embarassed” to see Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on “rhetorical bended knee” asking the Chinese to finance our debt.

Pawlenty said it was concerning and humiliating to have the president of France “lecturing us on the dangersof appeasement.

He soon interjected, again: “Are you fired up?  Are you ready to fight back?”

Pawlenty said Republicans, though, have to present an alternative to what Democrats are doing “in a hopeful and optistic way.”

A bit later, Pawlenty got a huge crowd response when he said: “The only thing growing faster than the national debt is Chris Matthews’ man-crush on Barack Obama.”

Pawlenty talked about his record as governor of Minnesota, touting his vetoes.  Pawlenty stressed an economic message next.

“(Democrats) should be focusing like a lazer” on jobs, Pawlenty said, “not acting like a manure spreader in a wind storm.”

Pawlenty said the health care system was “busted,” but the health care reform plan advancing in Washington isn’t the answer, according to Pawlenty.

“Unless you’re a Guantanamo detainee, they can’t get you the H1N1 vaccine in a reasonable time,” Pawlenty said. “How are they going to manage our health care?”

Pawlenty seems to be winding down.  “Our country faces great, great challenges…we’re blessed to live here,” he says, mentioning that some dismiss the Midwest as “fly-over” country.

“A couple of our pilots at Northwest Airlines took this a little too seriously,” he joked.

Pawlenty said it was time to talk about God in the public square.

For those who say the opposite, Pawlenty had one word: “Hogwash.”  He then quotes from the preamble to the Minnesota constitution.

“So if it’s good enough for the founders of this nation…then it should be good enough for us to acknowledge God in these type of settings,” Pawlenty said.

Next up, a Michael Jordan story, about teamwork.

“We don’t have a big enough party to be throwing people overboard,” Pawlenty says as the kicked to that story.  “…As a team, we’ve got to huddle around and support each other and move this cause forward,”

He closes with a Brett Favre story.

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About O.Kay Henderson

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