Economy dominates; S&P downgrades (audio)

Pawlenty in Tiffin

Four Republican presidential candidates spoke earlier this evening in Tiffin, Iowa (in the Clear Creek Amana high school cafeteria) to Republicans in the area.  Two of them in particular (Tim Pawlenty & Newt Gingrich) hammered away at President Obama’s handling of the economy. Gingrich suggested the economy’s in such horrid shape “we need to actually try to solve problems before the election.”  Gingrich also suggested the president was inept. “We have a president who combines, in a remarkable way, radicalism with incompetence,” Gingrich said.  Pawlenty said Obama would be “beaten comfortably” if the election were held today.

The economy was the top drawer issue during the daylight hours on the campaign trail.  Tonight came word that Standard & Poors has downgraded the long-term U.S. credit rating from AAA to AA.  Two candidates have issued statements.

Statement from Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann:

“Tonight’s decision by S&P to downgrade our credit rating to AA+ is a historically significant and serious event for the United States. The United States has had a AAA credit rating since 1917. That rating has endured the great depression, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the terrorist attacks on 9/11. This President has destroyed the credit rating of the United States through his failed economic policies and his inability to control government spending by raising the debt ceiling.

“We were warned by all of the credit agencies that a failure to deal with our debt would lead to a downgrade in our credit rating, but instead he submitted a budget that had a $1.5 trillion deficit and then requested a $2.4 trillion blank check. President Obama is destroying the foundations of the U.S. economy one beam at a time. I call on the President to seek the immediate resignation of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and to submit a plan with a list of cuts to balance the budget this year, turn our economy around and put Americans back to work.”

Statement from former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain:

On Tuesday, April 19, 2011, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner promised that America faced “no risk” of a credit downgrading. Less than six months later, he is proven shamefully wrong. As I have feared for months, the S&P has chosen to downgrade America’s credit rating from AAA, which we have always enjoyed, to AA+.

Perhaps this is because the Obama Administration and Congressional Democrats never once demonstrated a willingness to propose its own ideas for meaningful spending cuts, something credit agencies signaled were necessary to redeem America’s financial standing in the world.

As a corporate executive, I’ve rescued companies from the brink of bankruptcy and returned them to profitability. That involved balancing budgets or even creating them in the first place, something that the Democratic leadership in Congress hasn’t done for 828 days. If I couldn’t run companies without budgets, how can the government?

I also had to make tough budgetary cuts to save companies. Leadership is about doing what’s right, even when it’s difficult. But somehow, that sort of idea was never floated among those within the Obama Administration.

Now, Americans are fearful for their retirements and for their children’s educational savings. This is a country known for dreamers and innovators, for thinkers and doers. And now, we are a nation living in fear.

This is a sad day for America. Such a rating is unfitting of the greatest and most prosperous nation the world has ever known. And such a weak leader is, as well.

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Bachmann, with the “eat my crust” car in Newton (audio)

GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann campaigned in Newton earlier this afternoon.  Her campaign set up a small stage in the parking lot at the Pizza Ranch right off Interstate 80, not far from the set-up for a race car team in the same parking lot.

Driver Michael McDowell was under a tent, signing autographs over the noon-hour.  McDowell is part of the Pizza Ranch driving team.  The car he drives has a slogan on the rear end: “eat my crust.” Peggy Gerdts of Newton brought her grandson, Owen Aanestad of Iowa City, to get an autograph from the racer. McDowell signed the bill of Owen’s baseball cap.

“He drives for Joe Gibbs,” Peggy Gerdts said of McDowell, when I asked if she was a racing fan. (She is.) Newton, Iowa, in case you don’t know, is home to the Iowa Speedway. ” He’s a young and up and comer,” Gerdts said of McDowell.

That conversation happened at about noon in the Pizza Ranch parking lot.  By the time Bachmann arrived at 12:45, I did not see Gerdts and her grandson.  A crowd of nearly a hundred hearty souls braved the humidity and stood to hear Bachmann’s half-hour-long speech.  Bachmann mentioned limburger cheese and a White House BBQ in her remarks.

She posed for pictures, shook hands and chatted with the crowd after her speech.

Next came a Bachmann/McDowell meet-up.  The two walked from Bachmann’s set-up in the parking lot to McDowell’s.  “These are our people,” Bachmann said as she approached the vehicle. “We love NASCAR.”

Bachmann then walked back across the parking lot to pose for a picture with the staff who had been working inside the restaurant during the lunch-hour rush. “Yay Pizza Ranch,” Bachmann said, smiling, as she walked toward the group.  She was given a small, complimentary dessert pizza from the restaurant’s manager.  No word on who ate it.

AUDIO:  Bachmann then walked over to a microphone and have a brief Q&A with reporters. 5 min

A reporter asked Bachmann how she might peg her finish in the Straw Poll.  Bachmann did not suggest the other candidates would be “eating her crust” — to borrow a phrase from the Pizza Ranch folks. This is Bachmann’s answer:

“We’re at a disadvantage in that we’ve only been running and putting our plan in effect for two months here in Iowa. Other candidates have been here two years or more, and so we’ve at a distinct disadvantage from an organizational standpoint, but the response that we’ve had from Iowans is overwhelming.”  

Bachmann will do a Dole

Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann may address supporters at events in Sioux City, Sioux Center and Arnolds Park tomorrow — by phone.  It’s the kind of campaigning Kansas Senator Bob Dole did in Iowa in 1995, as he sought the GOP’s 1996 presidential nomination.  Dole, who was the Senate’s Republican leader back then, was stuck in D.C., in budget talks with President Clinton and Newt Gingrich that eventually led to a government shut-down.

Due to the ongoing debt debate in D.C., Kentucky Senator Rand Paul had already cancelled a weekend campaign swing through Iowa on his father’s behalf.  Here’s tonight’s announcement from Bachmann’s campaign:

Washington, D.C. – Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann announced tonight that, schedule permitting, she will call in to her Saturday (July 30) campaign events in Iowa in order for her to be in Washington D.C. to present her opposition to Senator Reid’s efforts to raise the debt ceiling. Bachmann for President Chairman, State Senator Kent Sorenson will host the campaign events in Bachmann’s absence.

Bachmann: other House GOPers “will have to come to their own conclusion” (audio)

GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann held a news conference in Ankeny early this afternoon.  “I wanted to be able to have just a word with you in response to President Obama’s statement last night regarding raising the debt ceiling,” she began.

AUDIO: Full news conference. 14 min

According to Bachmann, both parties have flawed approaches to this debate. “The premise is wrong…because what we need is a fundamental restructuring of our economy,” Bachmann said.

She said the Boehner plan is “wrong” because it would raise the debt ceiling, but when pressed on two different occasions, she would not call upon her Republican colleagues in the House to vote against it.  “My colleagues will have to come to their own conclusion,” Bachmann said.

A bit later, she said: “The problem is spending…so let’s get spending under control once and for all…I encourage all of my colleagues in both the House and Senate as well as the president the to listen to what the American people are saying…’Don’t raise the debt ceiling,’ I hear that at every stop I’m at.”

Bachmann’s “Testimony of Faith” (audio)

Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann has for the past two Sundays been a featured speaker at an evangelical Christian church service in Iowa.  Last Sunday she spoke at a large church in Des Moines. Today she spoke at the New Life Community Church in Marion, Iowa.  About 200 adults and children were in the congregation.

The church bulletin for this July 24, 2011 service listed the order of worship thusly:

Worshipping Christ in Song; Serving Christ in Ministries; Giving to Christ in Joy; Remembering Christ in Communion; Thanksing& Asking Christ in Prayer; Michele Bachmann Testimony of Faith.

AUDIO:  30 min – Bachmann’s testimony; followed by a prayer offered by the church’s pastor for both Bachmann and her family.

Bachmann spent a little over two hours at the church, posing for pictures and talking with members of the congregation as they came up the aisles to meet her after the service concluded.

Bachmann answers “migraine” question (audio)

GOP presidential candidate Michale Bachmann just answered one reporter’s question about her former staff members’ accounts of her migraines.  Listen

“I gave a statement yesterday. We were voting last night in Washington, D.C.  We got here about one o’clock in the morning. I keep a very vigorous schedule. I feel great and so we’ve answered that. What I’m here to talk about is the debt ceiling.”

Bachmann: deal that cleared House last night not enough

Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann arrived at about 9:30 this morning in a backyard in Norwalk, Iowa, declaring this a “God-kissed” morning in Iowa.  She quickly mentioned yesterday’s House vote on the cut, cap & balance proposal. She has a huge pad of paper brought up on stage; I think a math lesson is ahead. Here are my notes:

Nancy Pelosi took over as House Speaker in 2007.  That’s the same day Bachmann was sworn in to congress.  Bachmann writes on the board that the country’s “official” debt at that moment was $8.67 trillion.  “We were all terribly nervous” about that debt level, according to Bachmann.

When President Obama took office in January of 2009, the debt was $10.62 trillion. “In two years time, we added almost $2 trillion more,” Bachmann said.  “…That’s a fast progression of spending.”

Right now the debt is at $14.3 trillion (she’s writing these $$ figures on the board).  “Take a look at that,” she said.

Now what they’re going to have us at — $16.7 trillion.  “In just the time that I’ve been in congress…until next year we will almost double what it took us almost 230 years to accumulate in debt.  Just think of that.  That’s in about five years time. Doubling the national debt?  How can you do that?”

Bachmann said the government is taking in $2.2 trillion taking in this year, but spending $1.5 trillion more.

Bachmann asked the crowd: “Do you want to see Washington, D.C. cut back on spedning or do you want them to keep going at the velocity they’re going?…Who wants them to cut back?”

Everyone raised their hands. “You know what is astounding?” Bachmann asked, referencing last night’s House vote. “They voted basically to continue the spending at close to the levels we’re spending now.”

She said the cuts aren’t anywhere near where they should be.

“Do you feel like Washington is listening to you?” Bachmann asked the crowd. “The biggest blessing of unning for president of the United States is being with people…and find out what you really think, because that’s what I do.”

A few minutes later she called the House-passed plan “well-intentioned” — only she would add one more provision, the repeal of ObamaCare.

Bachmann said her economic plan would turn the economy around quickly. “If we get our will around this.  It will take one quarter and we’ll see the economy start to recover,” Bachmann said. “…I love people and I care about people. That’s what I want to see happen is to see that people have better lives.”

During the Q&A session, Bachmann added onto that. “I just don’t see how you turn this economy around without the repeal of ObamaCare,” she said.

AUDIO of Bachmann’s appearance in Norwalk.

Bachmann’s debt ceiling deal-makers? (audio)

I have heard Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann tell audiences in Iowa on a couple of occasions that the only way she’d vote to raise the debt ceiling would be if the deal includes the “defunding” of ObamaCare.  I asked her about that statement this afternoon, and whether there were any other qualifications that could be added to a “deal” which might cause her to vote to raise the debt ceiling. (Her campaign announced Saturday she would be signing South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint’s “cut, cap and balance” pledge.)

AUDIO: Bachmann answers :53

“I’m very proud of what Senator Jim DeMint is doing and what he’s asking for in cut, cap and balance. I think that’s wonderful. But the repeal of ObamaCare is absolutely essential and the defunding of ObamaCare is absolutely essential because it will be, essentially, Medicaid for all. It will displace Medicare and it will lead to rationing, but what’s worse, too, is the fact that it will also lead to, I think,  making it almost impossible for us to be a prosperous, free nation because it will require so much money and I think very quickly we will find ourselves in the situation that the United Kingdom is in now.  People don’t want it. People want us to get rid of it and I’m committed to that.” 

Bachmann in Ames; plastic cups melt! (audio)

Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann started this Sunday with an address at an Evangelical Christian church in Des Moines, followed by brunch at The Machine Shed — a chain that’s known for its farm cookin’ and hefty portions.  She’s also been appearing at events this weekend to draw attention to the upcoming Ames Straw Poll and her campaign scheduled a mid-afternoon stop in Ames, about a mile from where the Straw Poll festivities will be staged on August 13.

The event was held outside, in the parking lot of the Gateway Center Hotel in Ames.  Most everyone in the crowd arrived before the candidate, and many sought refuge inside the hotel’s conference center.  At the invitation of the hotel staff, I spent some quality time in an air conditioned  hotel ballroom, watching the World Cup Finals along with some of the other people who had gathered to hear Bachmann.  Folks who remained outdoors sought refuge under the shade of trees.

Once Bachmann arrived, most of the folks emerged from the shade, but some in the crowd of nearly 100 remained under the protection of the trees rather than venture out onto the blistering concrete.

AUDIO: Bachmann’s 14-minute speech.

Near the end of her speech, a man came under the audio tent where I was standing to show me a misshapen plastic cup.  The Bachmann campaign had arranged for metal pitchers of ice water to be placed on a table in the shade, near the hotel, to keep the crowd hydrated, but it was so hot the stacks of plastic cups had melted.

Bachmann gave an abbreviated address, then invited the crowd to follow her to the shade of the trees where she stayed signing autographs and posing for pictures.

Bachmann took off her shoes and chatted with the crowd for more than half an hour as a couple of her staff members circulated with iPads, taking down contact information from people in the crowd who indicated they needed tickets for the Straw Poll.

Several of the people I spoke with before and after said they were still mulling the choices in the presidential race.  One couple from nearby Ogden indicated they’ll be back in Ames on Tuesday to hear Tim Pawlenty, as they’ve narrowed their choice down to either Bachmann or Pawlenty.

Bachmann: “no scratch” left in Americans’ pockets (audio)

Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann’s campaign bus sounded its horn at about a quarter ’til two this afternoon, heralding the arrival of the candidate in the parking lot outside her Iowa campaign headquarters.  A crowd had started gathering in the area more than an hour earlier, lured by a hot dog lunch and the prospect of hearing from the candidate in person.

The headquarters itself is located in a strip mall behind the chain restaurant where former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin lunched last week.  The eatery has now been dubbed “Palin’s Panera” (Panera is the name of the chain), but that could change if Bachmann and her crew make that Panera a sort of “home kitchen” for the campaign staff and volunteers.

Nearly a decade ago I was sitting inside the Bachmann Iowa campaign headquarters, when it was a Coldwell-Banker Real Estate office, making an offer on the home in which I now live.  About two years ago I was standing inside Bachmann’s campaign headquarters, listening to then-former Governor Terry Branstad give the dedication speech to the space, which served as a regional headquarters for John McCain’s 2008 general election campaign.

Bachmann was a tad bit late for today’s event, so her Iowa campaign co-chair Brad Zaun (a former Urbandale mayor, a current state senator and a 2010 congressional candidate) addressed the crowd, calling Bachmann the “real deal” and a candidate with a “spine of steel.”

Bachmann delivered much the same speech she’s been giving since she launched her campaign in Waterloo, Iowa, late last month.  As she did at the Electric Park Ballroom, Bachmann seemed to get the heartiest burst of applause from the crowd when she pledged not to use a teleprompter if she’s elected president.  Bachmann attacked ObamaCare and the president’s record on the economy, but it was that sharp elbow to Obama’s style of speaking which was most rousing to the crowd.

Bachmann also used an Iowa farming metaphor to ridicule an Obama “lead from behind” comment, suggesting Iowans know that’s not how you plow a field.  (That would be a modern farming metaphor, as modern farmers ride a tractor as they pull a plow behind.  The heirloom “walking plow” that sits in my garden, however, was pulled by a horse, and the farmers who broke up the Iowa prairie into fields walked behind the plow.

Bachmann also dedicated a segment of her speech to a theme she’s sounding in her campaign advertising, her opposition to raising the debt ceiling.  She warned the U.S. was at risk of entering a “debtor’s prison to China” and “because the borrower is the slave of the person who lends and we cannot continue to do that.”

Bachmann called the congress “a dysfunctional family” because congress has voted 10 times in the past decade raise the debt ceiling.  “In our family, my husband and I would have taken that credit card — we would have chopped that baby up,” Bachmann said, to applause.  A man beside me yelled, “Halleluia!”

Bachmann suggested Obama should “put your hand in your pocket” because in the pocket’s of ordinary Americans “there’s no scratch in there.”

Bachmann got extended applause from the crowd (and a few Arsenio-Hall-Show like whoops) when she vowed to vote against raising the debt ceiling.  “This is a crucial time and that’s why I’ve put my marker down in the sand,” Bachmann said and as the applause continued, she added: “It’s time for tough love.”

AUDIO: Bachmann’s speech 21 min

Bachmann made a strong pitch to the crowd about the upcoming Iowa Republican Party’s Straw Poll on August 13.  “Let’s go make some phone calls,” Bachmann said to close her speech. “…We’re going to do this. We’re going to win it in 2012…Right here from Iowa, we’re going to do it.”

Bachmann told the crowd her campaign bought 300 hot dogs for this afternoon’s event and ran out, but Bachmann promised a campaign staffer had gone on a hot dog run and no one would leave the event without a hot dog if they wanted one.  She’s scheduled to attend the Iowa Barnstormers game this evening. (Iowa GOP chairman Matt Strawn is the co-owner of the Arena Football League team.)