“I wanna tell you, there has been no greater joy in my life than to be able to share with the people of Iowa and of this country that there is a model to take this country forward and it is in the great state of Texas.”- Gov Rick Perry
Part Do… or Die
In mid-December, a Progressive voter-awareness group named ‘Iowans Fueled With Pride’ released a Voters’ Guide before Caucus week. As a lobbying group funded by the ethanol industry, their primary focus was, reaching every one of the tens of thousands of ranchers and corn-growers across Iowa with their message: Perry hates ethanol mandates. Conservative, limited-government Conservatives have developed one vice in the last ten years – ethanol. Especially, in Iowa, the largest corn-producing state in the nation.
Rick Perry’s primary Conservative challenger has quickly become Rick Santorum, who consistently was five to ten points behind Perry in the polls until more recently. Shortly after the ‘Voters’ Guide’ was released, the tide began to shift – significantly. Inside the guide, voters found a list of various fuel standards, fuel mandates and various federal subsidies listed and who supports them. Each policy showed a graph where the current President, Barack Obama marked yes on piece of legislation. The remaining list below showed each GOP candidate in the race and where they stand. With a few exceptions of Bachmann or Paul, every other candidate found themselves in the almost sardonic position of the same “yes” column as Obama. Rick Perry was the ONLY candidate consistently outside that column and against all government meddling in faulty fuel alternatives. This issue turned an otherwise Perry-friendly rural countryside into solid Santorum-land, considering Rick “I’ll defend my earmarks” Santorum has always been very subsidy-friendly, and fits well into the conflicted Conservatism Iowa has long been known for.
Riley and I arrived at our caucus and immediately I went into campaign mode, handing out literature and working the room, introducing myself to voters as they entered the Weeks School auditorium, and pettin’ puppies and kissin’ babies. I had a few really good conversations and a few really short ones. My most engaging was with a Michelle Bachmann supporter that felt more like an orphan without a home and wanted answers to very serious questions; a Democrat – stretching a too-small Ron Paul R*LOVE*ution t-shirt across his truck-driver frame began arguing with me while talking with the woman. At the first claim of Constitutionality, I hit him with the earmarks abuse that Paul is so well-known for. He said “Ron Paul never votes for them!” to which I replied, “But he inserts them in there, knowing they’ll pass – what’s the difference?” His reply showed the utter ignorance and/or foolishness of these cross-over voters that infiltrated our caucuses that night: “Well, he has to look out for his people, so that’s why he makes sure they’re in there.” Which is it?!
There was another group of younger people that had just re-registered Republican and were carrying Ron Paul signs (and surprisingly one had a Rick Santorum sticker), and sat in the front waiting for their chance to sway the GOP polls.
First, Gingrich’s representative read off her talking points sheet in a Sean Hannity crescendo. She finished in 2:39 and sat down in awkward silence.
Next, Ron Paul’s surrogate stood to read off of her talking points as well, apparently struggling to read her own handwriting. It was substantive material, but shockingly unfamiliar to her. The best moment of the Paul presentation was when she went off script and spoke about the troops and purpose of war.
Then it was my turn to make a splash. I had prepared myself with my notes and learned what I was asked to cover by the Perry campaign. Between my seat in the third row and my position in the front of the room, I decided to go my own route: I shot from the hip and spoke about leadership. It went over remarkably well, and I even got a golf-clap from the angry Paul supporter in the skin tight “LOVE” shirt when I spoke about the out of control government we allow to have a place in our lives. There was a tense moment when the one-speaker-per-candidate rule was overruled by tshirt guy, and I was challenged to back up Rick Perry’s record in a quasi-debate, but for the most part the night went very well and I know my message was well received.
My precinct was in the city, and our results were as follows:
22% Gingrich 22% Paul 19% Perry 19% Santorum11% Bachmann7% Romney0% Huntsman
Needless to say, Perry had a much harder time in the farming counties than we had hoped, where ethanol is the local Friday Night Light drug of choice. As Riley and I arrived at the watch party, results began pouring in. Perry’s numbers stood at a hard-nosed and deflating ten percent like a stubborn mule until the night was over. No fanfare, no confetti; even the extensive h’orderves tasted less palatable as it was becoming quickly apparent that our candidate would not crack the top three, let alone win the Caucus.
In all honesty, winning it all – while certainly the goal of any self-respecting team – was not expected; a top three finish would have been a HUGE upset by the Perry campaign. There were many factors: ethanol interests working feverishly to get out the vote for conglomerates to protect their lifelines to federal politicking; the Family Leader organization holding its endorsement of Santorum until the last possible second; the Obama campaign flooding Iowa newspapers and magazines with ads the week leading up to the Caucus, coupled with grassroots emails encouraging Democrats to temporarily re-register as Republicans – they specifically named Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul as the alternates; Ron Paul’s campaign specifically directed volunteers to recruit independents and Democrats to support Paul. Perry had an uphill battle and he waged a good one.
When it came time for his interview with Megyn Kelly on Fox News at 9pm, he was optimistic and steady. We all watched from a few feet away as he spoke with conviction, telling her “I’m not going to change who I am to get a few more votes.” As he left the room for some back-room business, I was able to get a picture with the Governor and thank him for inspiring my own Wisconsin Governor, Scott Walker to do the right thing no matter what. He said, “He’s a good man, your welcome, son. Keep up the good fight!” With this he moved on down the line and made his way upstairs.
Between the somber watch party and the distraction of the cocktail bar, the 400+ supporters in the Sheraton were just a little unsure what was next. We knew the Governor was still around, and we knew he would speak at some point, but we spent most of the next two hours discussing what happened, why it happened, and what we could do about South Carolina.
I had Riley with me this entire time, and he was getting quite tired and rambunctious so I decided to take him to our hotel and come back. Right as I got back, after 11pm, I received a text from a campaign worker that Perry was back and I needed to get moving into the ballroom. As I entered, the mood was in contrast to the previous several hours; hundreds of people were smiling, gathering by the stage and the media was anxiously getting their cameras ready in front and back. Then the Governor came out onto the stage with his family.
His wife Anita, son Griffin, daughter-in-law Meredith and daughter Sydney surrounded him on the stage in casual clothes and smiles on their faces as Perry thanked his supporters for their efforts that day. He detailed his bus trip, the conversations he’d had, the 38 states that volunteers came from to invest into the Iowa Caucuses, and he read a letter he received from a young man who came from Kansas and lost a transmission along the way. The enthusiastic supporter detailed how he borrowed $2,000 to get it fixed and make it in time to work the door to door campaign. Then the Governor talked about the young veteran who had been present most of the weekend, having been injured in the line of duty in Iraq. Whenever Perry speaks about vets, he gets very emotional; it’s a Texan thing. It is real, no doubt about it.
As his speech wound down and the crowd began to remember the stressful day and disappointing opposition we had all faced that day in a crowded GOP field, he began to explain his heartfelt appreciation for us, and desire to return to Texas to rest before reengaging his campaign in South Carolina. “With the voters’ decision tonight in Iowa, I’ve decided to return to Texas, assess the results of tonight’s caucus, determine whether there is a path forward for myself in this race.”
The gut bomb those words gave each of us took the breath out of everyone, and for just a second you could wave your hand in front of anyone’s face and probably not get a wink. Was he really quitting? His plan was for every state! Did his words just reflect the frustration of a man who’s NEVER lost a single election he’s ever run in? He still has plenty of money to move forward!
As he began to leave the stage, he was sure to reach out to each of the supporters there to help him that weekend. He gave many hugs, many handshakes, a few tears – missing this time were the high-fives and thumbs-up he’s so well-known for. I had to speak with him once more. I squeezed and waited, then realigned my position in the line and then found an opening to the left. An older woman standing there with tears in her eyes, shaking her head was not appearing ready to move in on the governor so I seized the moment and politely asked her “excuse me”, and moved in front of her to the crowd line. As Governor Perry came closer to me, I knew exactly what he was feeling, but figured he could use a reminder of what kind of man we knew him to be. I remembered his often re-quoted “Bring it on! Live free or die! Victory or death!” line, and knew this was simply a man humbled by a machine working against him, because it knew he was the only one capable of changing that machine into something we, the people could actually control again.
The security detail grew stiffer and began asking people to stop asking for autographs and pictures. I moved to the very end of the line before the doorway and as the Governor came up to me, he reached out, grabbed my hand and looked me in the eye. I pulled him in toward me and said, “Ronald Reagan never quit; you sure as hell better not.” And he said, “okay son,” and turned to leave the room.
I don’t know if what I said made a hill-of-beans difference, and I know the Governor spent the night talking with his organization in South Carolina and onsite in Iowa about his “path forward.” What I do know is that an hour later, his son Griffin said “He’s not quitting, absolutely not.” By 10:14 the next morning, the Governor (who controls his own Twitter account and does not have a staffer do it for him) tweeted a picture of him on his morning run and said, “The next leg of the marathon is the Palmetto State… here we come, South Carolina!!!”
Facebook and Twitter exploded within minutes and all of Rick Perry’s nationwide family of support unified behind him once again. The only question likely dogging the Governor was the money to move forward in actual primary states where massive amounts of money are needed to make an impression and “Perry” forward. In fine form, every-day people rose to the occasion. The donation referral link I’ve been assigned at RickPerry.org receives notice of one or two donations per week; within 24 hours after his encouraging tweet, I had received notification of 15 new donors. This is a Governor who has no quit in him, and his supporters reflect the leader they follow. We’re not quitting either. South Carolina is calling, and we’re answering it.
“Do not gloat over me, my enemy. Though I have fallen, I will rise.”
See you again. Soon…