Carly Fiorina, Rand Paul stand out at Des Moines Lincoln Day Dinner
This is the kind of weekend where you can see why Iowa is so reluctant to give up it's position as "first in the nation" contest. GOP candidates invaded the state, pressing the flesh from one corner of Iowa to the other, culminating in 11 candidates addressing the annual Lincoln Day Dinner in Des Moines.
Politico took the temperature of the room and came away with 5 major impressions:
1. THE IOWA STRAW POLL IS ON LIFE SUPPORT
After lambasting Jeb Bush on Twitter last week for his decision not to participate in the famed Iowa Straw Poll this August, Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kauffman opened Saturday’s Lincoln Dinner with a video emphasizing the event’s importance. Sen. Chuck Grassley, the patriarch of the state GOP, followed him on stage to reiterate the importance of the tradition.
The response? Not one of the 11 presidential hopefuls who followed them at the podium gave any indication that they will take part in it.
2. SCOTT WALKER IS THE CLEAR IOWA FRONT-RUNNER
In his remarks Saturday evening, Scott Walker fell short of the heights he reached with a soaring speech here in January. That stirring address before a crowd of Iowa social conservatives catapulted him to the front of the GOP field; attendees in this more establishment crowd left the ballroom far less starstruck. But the Wisconsin governor still leads in polls of Iowa Republicans and his steady, professional delivery of a stump speech that focused on his record of enacting conservative reforms in a blue state was well-received by most. Walker — who eschewed some of his trademark folksiness — spoke convincingly about national security, and his description of last week’s tour of Israel helped drive that message home.
3. FOREIGN POLICY CONTINUES TO DOMINATE THE GOP DEBATE
The tight 10-minute speaking limit forced candidates to sharpen their pitches – and to prioritize certain issues over others. Their choices were telling.
Foreign policy is emerging as a dominant issue because Obama/Hillary are so incredibly vulnerable. But most Iowans want to hear more about domestic issues like the economy and jobs rather than why Obama 's policies are failing in so many places. The closer we get to the caucuses, the less we'll hear about foreign policy.
4. RAND PAUL LIKES THE ISLAND LIFE
In contrast to his competitors who stuck to standard GOP themes, Rand Paul delivered a presentation Saturday night that emphasized three issues where he stands far apart from the rest of the field: civil liberties, criminal justice reform and his anti-interventionist foreign policy stance. The self-described “libertarianish” Kentucky senator is on an island on all of those issues; his focus on them in the 10 minutes he was allotted on stage suggested that’s just how he likes it.
Paul was also alone in being the only speaker to zero in on the dominant political story of the week: Jeb Bush’s struggles to explain how he feels about his brother’s decision authorizing the Iraq War.
5. CARLY FIORINA KILLED IT
Carly Fiorina took the stage and blasted big government for suppressing the nation’s economic potential. She name-dropped Vladimir Putin and other world leaders she’s met with, underlining her global experience and outlining a hawkish approach to foreign affairs. And she drew laughs and applause when she playfully addressed her status as the only woman in the GOP field. “Can anyone think for a single instant that a man’s judgment was clouded by his hormones, including in the Oval Office?”
Just as the cheers were rising from the ballroom, her mic cut out because her 10 minutes were up. But it worked out perfectly for Fiorina – it ended up leaving the crowd wanting more.
Rand Paul continues to both attract and repel GOP support. He attracts new people - the young especially - to the party while causing trepidation among establishment types. In a caucus state like Iowa, the former will be far more valuable than the latter, giving him a real opportunity for an upset.
As for the rest, Walker accomplished what he set out to do - not injure himself. The other candidates were apparently well received, although with the exception of Fiorina, no one partuclarly stood out. The Iowa gauntlet has now begun in earnest and 8 long months from now, we'll see who comes out on top.