I can't seem to buy nice weather. After getting stuck in the snow going to see Mitt last week I had to navigate a trecherous highway heading to Cedar Rapids on Friday evening. I decided to check out the Rapids event because I could turn it into an excuse to spend the weekend in Iowa City (My behavior at the bars might explain this late email). Anyway the were cars sliding off the highway left and right on Friday but I made it nonetheless. Thanks to my friends "hospitality" I got off to a late start on Saturday. By the time I arrived at the Crowne Plaza hotel the room was already about 3/4 full. The event took place in a large ballroom.. The kind of room you'd have a sorority formal in. The stage was set with a stool and a table with a McCain backdrop and two flags. It wasn't a very high stage so it made it seem less like it was a speech and more like a "townhall." There was no podium, all the speakers used a wireless mic. The set-up reminded me of what McCain did in New Hampshire in 99. Informal, fire your questions at me. I took a seat in the back just in front of a Fox News reporter who was talking very loudly and seemed to be doing a live report (not sure about that though). A little after 115 (the scheduled start time) former Iowa state senator Chuck Larson gave an introduction. Then my main man Leon Mosely said a prayer, and he was dressed to impress as usual. Then it was Phil Gramm's turn to speak. He was mumbling and drawling for a minute or two- wasteful spending seemed to be a big topic- at which point I realized that I was desperately in need of water. So I ducked out on Gramm and missed the most of his speech. I walked back into the room just ahead of McCain. He takes the stage to applause and a half-way standing ovation. McCain starts of with a slew of jokes almost like its a stand-up routine. Two of them made me laugh. One was about Zsa Zsa Gabor (sp?) that was a little risque (well for a Republican audience at least). He had another that went ""Two inmates at a state prison are in a chow line,'' "One of them said to the other one 'The food was a lot better in here when you were the governor.' " I'm not sure why but that was the only joke that made me laugh out loud. Then McCain got down to business. He started off by reading exactly what the vote was he was skipping. "a cloture vote to determine whether further debate should happen to bring about another cloture vote etc." Then he said something like "I'm really sorry I'm missing that" which got a good response. He called the vote a publicity stunt and went into his reasoning for skipping it. By the end of the speech I don't think there was a single person in the room that thought he should be participating in that silly vote. One thing I noticed at this point is that McCain a lot more soft spoken than I expected. His soft-spoken style created more of a serious, discussion like atmosphere while Romney's booming speechifying made that event seem a lot more like a rally. McCain then talked a lot about Iraq and what we need to do to win there, it was Iraq that got him his largest applauses. He hit on some other issues as well, government spending, ethics, he explained his position on immigration which he's going to have to do over and over again to sell this audience. All in all he probably only talked for like 12-15 minutes before taking questions. The funniest moment of the Q&A came when a guy in the first row said "Senator you've got my support but I'm not letting you off easy, what about ethanol" and McCain said "My friend Chuck Larson and I have a large glass of ethanol every morning for breakfast" and he looked over at Chuck who was next to the stage which got everyone laughing. Then he explained why he has a different opinion between 99 and now (oil prices) then said in the interest of "straight talk" said he does oppose subsidies. He took a question from a veteran, a couple nice questions and some adversarial ones. The Q&A session was quite long, 40 minutes or so. I think he took 3 "last questions." Talking to people afterwards the one thing everyone said positive about him was that he seemed to give genuine answers to the questions and for the most part answered them very directly. That was probably the most impressive thing about the whole townhall. After he finished up and left the stage, there was no music or anything so that was different from Romney's event. There had to be twice as many people than there were at Romney's thing but given the terrible weather on Monday I'm not sure that says much. All in all it was interesting to see the significant contrasts in styles between the two and I was glad to be able to do both.
While turnout reports varied. The consensus numbers seemed to be 375 in Des Moines, about 500 in Cedar Rapids and over 400 in Davenport.