Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Bachmann and Palin in Iowa

One In, the Other?: This has definitely been quite a week for presidential politics in Iowa. Michele Bachmann, the native Iowan-turned Minnesota Congresswoman, used Iowa to launch her presidential campaign in her hometown of Waterloo on Monday. Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee, used Iowa to launch...well, I suppose, to launch the premiere of the pro-Palin movie, "The Undefeated". We don't yet know if there's more to it.

Bachmann: Her roll out went off with no apparent major problems. There was that comment to Fox news where she said John Wayne was also a Waterloo native. Oops. This one probably didn't get a lot of attention at first outside of the state, perhaps. But Iowans know Wayne is a Winterset, Iowa native, not Waterloo. Likely just a brain cramp. But the comment did feed into a national storyline that Bachmann is gaffe-prone. Once that storyline develops, whether accurate or inaccurate, it gets repeated both nationally and locally. It can be a tough one to shake.

Bachmann showed her comfort before the crowd the two events I watched, both her casual barbecue Sunday night and the official announcement Monday a.m. No teleprompter. And she joked she might get rid of the teleprompter President Barack Obama uses when she moves to the White House. I thought Bachmann's people took some risk for Monday's announcement. It was outdoors and was probably 250 feet or so from the highway, and about half that distance from a fairly busy road. Neither turned out to be much of a problem. The rain quit long before the announcement started and outside from one honking trucker passing by, the nearby noise didn't bring much of a problem. The bigger problem was the hot sun that moved most of her "1 on 1" post-announcement interviews inside. I had about 5 minutes with her. We didn't make much news, I didn't think from my interview. I guess you could say we did stump her with our final question: which state fair is best, Iowa's or Minnesota's? That's probably a question for which there is no good answer for a politician who grew up in Iowa and now lives in Minnesota. But it's a fun one to try! Here's our full interview:

Palin: When Sarah Palin comes to town, it is unique. It's like no other political visit we're seeing here these days. Maybe it's similar to when Barack Obama came in 2007 or 2008, especially after he really got rolling. But I don't think his visits fully compare to Palin. Palin brings out so much love and anti-love (I would rather not use the word "hate"). Palin and her husband came to Pella Tuesday night for the premiere of the adoring movie about her called "The Undefeated" (I don't really fully get the title, by the way, since she isn't undefeated after losing the presidential/vice-presidential race in 2008). We just happened to pass the Palins as they left Jaarsma Bakery in downtown Pella. It's the home of those famous Dutch letters, so it would seem to be a must stop. The bakers even made the letters in the form of "S" and "P" (I didn't realize you can get the pastries made into any letter you want. But they told me at the counter you can).

I know the line "greeted like a rock star" gets overused. But, I think it fits in this case. That's what it felt like watching the crowd as the Palins slowly made their way about half a block to the front door of the Pella Opera House. People screamed and strained to get close to them as they walked by. It's not your typical politician's visit. Standing there, you can't help but wonder if you're getting used in all of this. Palin regularly criticizes the media (she had a short career as a tv sports anchor in Alaska) but media keep her in the news as she continues to sell books. I must say I didn't expect her to talk to reporters during her Pella stop. She did, just in a different way than others do. She didn't stand before a microphone and take our questions. Instead, she would occasionally answer a question from a reporter as she walked the "rope line" on her way to the private barbecue with supporters after she had the private movie screening with supporters. I can't say we learned much with her answers. She supposedly still hasn't made up her mind about running for president. And why would she? She gets plenty of free exposure from the media and doesn't ever really have to address serious questions about issues facing the country or events of the day.

Bob Vander Plaats, the three-time failed Republican candidate for governor in Iowa, key leader in Mike Huckabee's 2008 winning Iowa Caucus campaign and now head of the social conservative group, The Family Leader, told me Palin still has time. He thinks Palin is a unique potential candidate in the race. He thinks her star power and name i.d. mean she could skip the Republican Party of Iowa's Straw Poll in August and then possibly enter the race after Labor Day. That would make for a fascinating move, if she does. Most of the most talented Iowa staffers and advisers would be taken by that time. But who knows? Maybe some other candidates will have already pulled out of the race by then, freeing up some staffers?

A couple other random observations from the Palin event...I'm told that organizers had to begin planning the movie premiere without knowing Palin would show up. The locals didn't find out until Saturday, the day after the announcement that the movie would come to Pella. Also, on a blazing hot summer day for the movie premiere, the air conditioning went out in the opera house. Not good timing for that. But hopefully, all the attention this event received does put some focus on the historic building. It really is a cool place.

I was a bit blown away by watching the movie's staff/production crew/whoever they were ordering everyone around...spectators, reporters, the police. I would like to remind them when you hold your event on a public street and a public plaza...well, it's public.

Having said that I must say a public "thanks" to the Pella police. They kept everything under control and kept that "comedian" from Jimmy Kimmel's show from completely ruining our live shots.

One more thing...Shane Vander Hart, of Pleasant Hill, was one of the 300 or so Iowans invited for the movie showing. He has the only video I know about from Palin's private speech to the moviegoers inside the opera house.

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