IOWA CITY – Texas Gov. Rick Perry was late getting into the campaign, but he was quick in hitting the traditional campaign stops for presidential hopefuls vying in Iowa’s leadoff caucuses.
Two days after officially entering the presidential race, the three-term Republican governor was at the Iowa State Fair Monday morning before taking his “Get America Working Again” bus to Iowa City in the afternoon for a 35-minute stop at Hamburg Inn No. 2.
The small diner just north of downtown has become a common stop for candidates in recent presidential elections and is known for its informal coffee-bean caucus, in which customers can vote for candidates by placing a coffee bean in a jar.
Perry announced his candidacy on Saturday and was instantly placed in the upper tier of candidates by political experts and talking heads.
When Perry walked in Hamburg Inn just past 3:30 p.m., he cast a bean for himself, double checking that he had just one vote. He also ordered a cherry-pie milkshake, to go, to be split in three. Perry was joined by his wife, two kids and a daughter-in-law.
Hamburg Inn seats 75 people and was overflowing Monday afternoon, with at least 50 more people outside. It offers more of the traditional, face-to-face caucus experience, and Perry worked the room shaking hands.
It was hard to hear conversations from more than a couple of feet away, but most seemed to be quick introductions, requests for autographs and statements of support. Perry showed his Texas roots, saying things like “howdy” when he walked in and later “Good to see you boys” to a group of men.
The 61-year-old Perry told one man he believed his first trip to Iowa was in 1979 or 1980.
Eric Rosenthal, 52, of Cedar Rapids, showed Perry the plaque by his table commemorating where former President Ronald Reagan sat in 1992. Perry said he’ll have to come back and sit there himself some time.
Rosenthal was former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s Linn County campaign chair until Pawlenty dropped out of the race on Sunday. He said he had been hoping Perry would run because he believes Perry can respond to the economic challenges facing the country and Perry has executive experience as a governor.
“If you’re not in the hot seat, how can you be sure you’ll handle the hot seat?” Rosenthal said.
Perry did not take questions from reporters.
Irma Bisenius is looking for a Republican candidate who can create more jobs and improve the economy. She drove over from Ankeny to see Perry, although she’s not in his camp yet.
However, she said, “I’m quite impressed with the little I’ve seen of him so far.”
Not everyone at the Hamburg Inn was a Perry fan. About a dozen protestors stood outside holding signs (“More hot air from Texas” read one) and hurling a few barbs at Perry.
Gary Stockinger, 49, a union member and housekeeper at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, said he believed Perry would whittle away at collective bargaining rights and said Perry is not a friend to workers.
“I don’t see Perry as friendly to anyone except mega corporations,” he said.
Perry is the first serious presidential candidate to visit Hamburg Inn this year, owner Dave Panther said. He has extended invitations to all of the campaigns, and with the caucuses still six months away, he’s hopeful more will show up.
In the 2008 caucuses, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who is running for president again this year, got the most coffee beans among Republican hopefuls, with 132. That was dwarfed by then-Sen. Barack Obama’s total of 1,733.
So far this year, the candidates have just a few beans each.
“We had to take Tim Pawlenty down,” Panther said.