DES MOINES — Last night’s Ronald Reagan Dinner was as much of a pep rally for some of state’s most influential party leaders as it was policy forum for five candidates seeking their votes.
From the opening speech to the 1,000 attendees by Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds at Hy-Vee Hall in downtown Des Moines to the closing remarks by state GOP co-chairman Bill Schickel, the clear target of the night was President Barack Obama.
Absent was much of the between-candidate sniping that’s been seen at recent debates and in literature sent out by the dueling campaigns.
The candidates on hand — U.S. Rep Ron Paul of Texas, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich — were even complimentary, at times, to one another.
Any of the candidates, Perry said, “would be better than what we have right now.” Gingrich called out each candidate by name for a specific part of their platform that he liked.
Missing from the dinner were the party’s two front-runners, former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
“That’s bad,” said Rep. Josh Byrnes, a Republican lawmaker from Osage, who attended the event with his wife, Colleen. “We have a lot of Republicans who are undecided and the last thing you want to do is not attend an event like this.”
Byrnes is committed to a candidate, but is staying mum about his pick until a formal endorsement announcement on Nov. 14. He also criticized Cain and Romney for not showing up to the Nov. 1 presidential forum on manufacturing in Pella.
Each candidate present at last night’s dinner hit on the economy and their plan to fix it.
Paul advocates a return to the gold standard and elimination of the income tax. Perry wants a flat tax and promised a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution.
Bachmann said she was the “lone voice in the wilderness” warning people about the debt ceiling before it became the issue du jour. Gingrich said he was the only candidate with the experience of proposing a balanced federal budget. Santorum said he not only has an economic plan, but a “strong family plan” that focuses on faith and social issues.
“Jobs and the economy is No. 1,” said Shawn Hamerlinck, a Republican state senator from Dixon, who drove in from the Quad City area for the event. “Iowa is better off financially than most states; however, the question is whether or not we can get true leadership out of Congress and the president.”
It remains to be seen if the good-natured feelings present at the dinner will translate into better poll numbers for the candidates now chasing Romney and Cain.
“I think come mid-November you’ll see a change and it will start going back up again,” said Vicki Crawford, a Bachmann volunteer from Granger, about her chosen candidate’s poll numbers.
Crawford is a longtime supporter who was on hand when Bachmann announced her candidacy in Waterloo this summer. She has watched Bachmann’s poll numbers fall since the Ames straw poll.
“She’s been right on everything, and consistent,” Crawford said. “She’s been consistent about overturning ObamaCare. She’s consistent about getting rid of the federal education department. People will see that and they’ll come back.”
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