Steele wheels into Iowa (AUDIO)

The massive red bus RNC chairman Michael Steele is riding around the country rolled into a parking lot in suburban Des Moines this afternoon (about half an hour late).  Steele is making a tour of the lower 48.  He was in Kansas City, Missouri, earlier today. He’s in Urbandale, Iowa as I type this, headed to overnight in Omaha, Nebraska.  He’ll hold a party pep rally there with Nebraska Republicans tomorrow morning.

Steele spoke late this afternoon to a crowd gathered at the Iowa GOP’s “Victory Center” (a.k.a. Terry Branstad’s campaign headquarters; Branstad’s now sharing with the other statewide candidates).  Steele gave a pep talk to the party faithful.  (Listen to Steele’s Rally)

“Churn it up!” Steele told the crowd at about the half hour mark of the pep rally.  “I’m so excited, I wish we could vote now.”

People in the crowd started to yell: “You can!”  Early voting in Iowa started last week.  Steele turned toward Iowa GOP chairman Matt Strawn, who was standing behind him, and Strawn advised Steele votes are being cast by absentee ballot in Iowa already.

After the event, Steele stood near the big red bus and answered a few questions from Des Moines-area reporters. (Listen to the interview)

Patrick Bell of KCCI TV: Your thoughts on the president’s visit to Iowa?

Steele: “Well, I think it’s, you know, again, one of those efforts that the president makes that’s falling short.  You’ve got basically a fixed audience.  It’s not opening up to the people of Iowa to come and ask questions, so it’s not a traditional town hall meeting.  The press is there and that’s nice, but, you know, the issues right now don’t rest with the press.  It rests with the people and the people are the ones with the questions when it comes to everything from the Bush tax cuts and how he stands on that and what he’s willing to do to keep taxes from going up to health care to certainly jobs which has been predominant for a lot of voters and Iowa’s no exceptions, so you know it’s another opportunity for the president to come out and be with the people, but you know, you’re not listening so these things really kind of fall deaf, on deaf ears, and they fall flat and a lot of people don’t understand why, after almost two years, you haven’t understood what they’ve been saying to create jobs. We’ll see what he says.  Welcome to Iowa.”

Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson (me): In a time of scarce party resources, there have been people who have questioned this bus tour and called it a colossal waste of time…

Steele: “Yeah, and those are people who generally aren’t involved in the business of going out and getting people to engage in the party.  It’s not a waste of time, I think, to come out and rally the base and to get them involved in the everyday business of winning elections. I would submit they’re probably some of the people who had a hand in the problems that we’ve had in the past and the reality for us right now is we’re not focused on the past.  We’re focused on moving the party forward. This is an effective way to send a message that the party’s on the street.  When I became chairman I made it very clear my goal was to put the party back in neighborhoods and communities, to be with our grassroots, to make our state party organizations the center of political activity not, you know, the talking heads and bureaucrats and the GOP establishment in Washington.  Some people don’t like that.  My style’s a little different.  I’m a grassroots guy and I like and really love the opportunity to be with the grassroots.”

Tom Beaumont of The Des Moines Register: As part of the problems of the past, are you referring to Karl Rove…

Steele: “I’m not referring to anybody. I’m just saying those who are not in the business right now of talking about electing Republicans in November, who are not in the business of doing everything they can to make sure that Governor Branstad is reelected and that Mr. Zaun is elected here in Iowa I question what their focus is.  The attention has got to be not on a bus, not on the RNC, but on the communities out here that are ready to go to the polls and we want to make sure that when they go, they’re armed with the facts, they’re armed with our candidates right in their sights and they go in and they vote for our guys.”

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About O.Kay Henderson

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