Thursday, April 13, 2006


WH'08: McCain in Cedar Rapids

Just got back from the Nussle fundraiser in Cedar Rapids featuring Senator John McCain. It was a packed ballroom at the Crowne Plaza in downtown, featuring a BBQ Chicken Salad for lunch. After a hearty introduction by Bob Vander Plaats, Jim Nussle spoke briefly about his vision for Iowa and then introduced McCain.

McCain started off with some jokes -- one about drunk irish twins that I couldn't quite figure out how it related to anything of relevance, one about fundraising, and another poking fun at the poor track record of Arizonians running for President. He also praised Nussle. Then he launched into his policy speech: reigning in spending in DC (suprisingly, didn't decide to single out the Rainforest as an example, which Senator Allen did do during his recent visit). He spent a good bit of time discussing immigration - some said his tone was a bit preachy - explaining why he felt his approach is the right approach. And also discussed Iran and Iraq.

He gave an impassioned thanks for supporting the President and supporting our troops -- which seemed to get the strongest response from the crowd. It struck me how important this part of his platform is -- it's a not-so-subtle reminder to the rank-and-file that "I am a part of the team. I rallied behind the President. I've earned your support, now it's my turn." Everytime he brings up his support of the President, I hear echoes of his speech at the Convention in 2004 -- and I can't help but think other loyal partisan republicans do as well. I stood on the convention floor in NYC for his address, and as he made his energetic calls in support of President Bush then, you could almost here McCain's banks of political capital filling up.

That said, overall I would say his reception today was warm, but more polite than enraptured. After the speech he did have a number of people run up to shake hands, get pictures, etc. He spent about 5-10 minutes entertaining the small talk, before he was ushered off to talk to reporters.

TheDes Moines Register had a piece summing up McCain's support in the state. Not too much new we haven't already said here, except for the idea by some that it would be vaiable for McCain to backtrack on his ethanol position. It'll be interesting to see whether that would swing -- I think he'd be skewered by the national media for being a typical politician, especially given their current rant against him for shifting right. Notably McCain did not mention ethanol at all in his speech (though I'm told he was asked about it during his press conference... will have to watch for stories.)

UPDATE: Here's the Register Story on Ethanol... not sure that I see the softening.

On that point, I was also disappointed that he didn't acknowledge at all skipping us in 2000. In the Register article linked above, Larson calls it inside baseball that most Iowans won't worry about... still, I think there are a number of people for whom it is a big deal. I would have liked to have seen him start out with a joke referencing that -- to at least give a nod that he acknowledges it was a slight.

As expected, McCain was accompanied by his two new high-profile Iowa advisers. Chuck Larson was seated at the head table and was by his side afterwards. He also got a shout out from McCain during the speech thanking him for his friendship and all he has done and saying that "he'll be rewarded in heaven." (PHOTO BELOW LEFT: McCain visiting with guests and Larson standing behind). Terry Nelson was also close at hand, working the press and watching the room. (PHOTO BELOW RIGHT: Nelson checking his blackberry)

For the real political junkies, other random tidbits of note:

- Looked like the first congressional district candidates were in attendance -- I saw Bill Dix and Brian Kennedy -- though I didn't see them looking to snuggle up to McCain and his immigration proposal... maybe a good thing there wasn't Q&A.

- Nussle congratulated Linn County Senator Mary Lundby on her election to Majority Leader and she got a round of applause (not sure whether she was there or not)

- A number of statewide candidates were there with tables of literature -- all three ag candidates, though from what I saw it looked like Leonard was working the hardest, staying until the end and trying to greet everyone who walked out. Bob Dopf, the new candidate for Secretary of State was also there and seemed to be getting a lot of attention from people. I was glad to see that he's campaigning hard and hope he'll be back over to eastern Iowa again soon.

- Congressman Jim Leach from Iowa City was also in attendance up at the head table. McCain lavished praise on him as one of the most principled Republicans in the House. I was glad to see him there -- I hadn't seen his name of the roster of any of the previous events, so good it's good to know he's on board and included.

- It seemed like the entire Iowa political corps was in attendance, including of course, Yepsen and Glover. (PHOTO LEFT: Press waiting to talk to McCain afterwards -- Yepsen on far right is talking to Terry Nelson)

Things that's all for now, though I'll update below if I see any other interesting stories about the visit. Aside from the interesting WH insights, the important thing about this event is once again it demonstrated GOP unity, brought in folks from around eastern Iowa, and raised a lot of good money for fall campaign.

UPDATE: Here's the Washington Post's take on the visit. And the Register. Glover's AP Report. And of course, Krusty's commentary.

I kinda agree with Larson that skipping Iowa in 2000 isn't going to hurt McCain much. The people holding that against McCain probably wouldn't be supporting him today anyway. McCain's as much Bull Moose as his is an Elephant, and that's just going to rub some people the wrong way. I'm not convinced that people would base their choice for the next president on something so petty as whether he campaigned in Iowa 8 years ago or not. It's just something on which some people hang their unhappy hats. Not to say that I'm sold on McCain, but I'm more than willing to give him a chance.
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