Sunday, September 16, 2007

Iowa The Big Winner On Harkin's Day in Political Sun

INDIANOLA – Hillary pulled out the best line of the day.

Obama’s team orchestrated some powerhouse optics.

Edwards did that lawyer-leaping-from-the-John-Grisham-novel-to-face-the-forces-of capitalism’s-excesses-for-those-Americans-bogged-in-the-backwater thing,

The candidates had their moments, some big ones at that.

But the win at U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin’s Steak Fry, the trophy on this day of the Emmys, goes to the State of Iowa. A record number of Iowans for this event, more than 12,000 by Harkin staffers’ official count, poured into the balloon fields in this Warren County town south of Des Moines, just weeks before harvest and four months until candidates learn if their own toils and tending yield a bump for New Hampshire or South Carolina or Nevada in the chase for the White House.

“Whoever comes out of Iowa is going to get one heck of a boost,” Harkin told members of the media before the formal speeches.

Six Democratic presidential candidates appeared before a boisterous crowd on a hay-bail lined stage with a serene countryside, the solitude of a Sunday sun tea on the porch only a light breeze away and stretching as far as the eye could strain.

As Edward R. Murrow may have said: This is Iowa.

Yes it is. And love him or hate him, you have to give it to Harkin for showcasing the state in a genuine manner like this.

At Sunday’s steak fry – the event Harkin used to launch his own presidential candidacy in 1991 with clever attacks on Bush – the activists came to eat the read meat and digest it by getting an ear full of some. Like in 1991, it was a Bush, this one hemorrhaging like a piñata with only a few Tootsie rolls left and little stomach for the whip of the stick anymore, as the rhetorical target.

“In words that even George Bush can understand we are ready to kick some elephant,” Harkin said, referring the Bush’s now-famous barroom posturing with the Aussies about Iraq.

It wasn’t as good as Harkin’s best right verbal hook at Daddy Bush in 1991, “the feet of clay” line, but Harkin isn’t looking to follow this Bush to the Oval Office, either.

“The era of cowboy diplomacy is over,” said Hillary Clinton. “America is back.”
Bush bashing, committed activists and sign wars are all staples of Harkin steak frys.

But this year brought some more Republicans – and a fair number of undecideds.
Jim and Peggy Mikulanec, long time Indianolans, worked the Obama rally – just as they had worked for the George Bush the elder in his presidential bid.
Peg, a retired science and math teacher, said she’s backing Obama because “he’s the only one of all the candidates” (at least those in Indianola today) who took an early anti-war position.

Her husband, who is in the concrete business, sees chief executive material in Obama.
“I think we’re crying for true leadership, classic leadership,” he said. “I think Obama provides it.”

Karin Hill, 45, of Marshalltown, a supervisor with JC Penney, had stickers on her shirt for six Democratic candidates. She’s not going to make up her mind a minute too soon.

“I might wait actually until the caucus,” Hill said.

In fact, she may caucus for a candidate who needs an extra nudge in Marshalltown to stay viable and make it out of Iowa to fight another day, she said, noting what she believed to be the strength of the full field.

And Lon Diers of Carroll, retired from the can redemption business, said he’s backing Hillary and thinks that if she makes it out of the nominating process, many frustrated Republicans will give her something of a fresh look – or as much of one as the most famous woman in the world can get.

As some of the first waves of steak eaters made their way through food lines, the Clinton and Edwards people had a strong run of the balloon grounds.

Obama’s campaign, in a masterful stroke in terms of revving up their faithful, and providing unforgettable images for the media, gathered 3,000 strong (according to Obama Iowa press secretary Tommy Vietor) in at a rally south of the balloon fields, across from two-lane U.S. Highway 92. With Obama in front and band members close behind the ethnically and age diverse crowd marched down a gravel lane banked by corn fields, wildflowers, Golden Rod and prairie grasses, to the steak fry.

“We have to bring an end to game-playing,” Obama said in his speech. “The times are too serious. The stakes are too high.”

Harkin’s organizers selected the seating and speaking order for the candidates at random, but it fell in an interesting way. On the left side of the stage you had Obama, the Illinois senator and an African-American, sitting next to New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, the first serious Hispanic candidate, who was flanked by Hillary Clinton, a woman with a realistic shot at being the most powerful person in a world of 7 billion people and growing. All of these candidates represent change before they even open their mouths.

On the other side of the podium, speaking in the final three spots was what one might call the White Boy’s Club of The Senate with current senators Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Delaware’s Joseph Biden sitting with former U.S. Sen. John Edwards in between.

(For what it’s worth, Edwards and Biden seemed to have some running small talk and did Obama and Richardson.)

If the leading candidates in Iowa (Edwards, Obama and Clinton) were auditioning potential running mates, Bill Richardson sure made a case to be at the front of the line – if he doesn’t somehow jump the field.

As he took stock of the candidate on the stage Richardson said, “In my judgment, all of them could serve in the White House – as my VP.”

In less than 15 minutes, Richardson covered the most policy territory with the most specifics -- $40,000 minimum salaries for teachers, 50 mpg fuel standards, 1 year of community service for young people to kill much of their college student loans.

U.S. Sen. John Edwards sounded the most like Harkin, striking populist chords and serving up his lines with the sort of barely controlled-rage-against-the-system energy that very well may fuel Harkin for another five Senate terms into his 90s.
“I don’t want to see us replace corporate Republicans with corporate Democrats,” Edwards said (without looking at Hillary Clinton.)

Edwards then called for the M word with health care, saying it should be mandated for all Americans. Any candidate refusing to use the M word will be leaving someone uninsured (perhaps the guy in Appalachia he always talks about) and should have to answer this question: “What man, what woman, what child in America, is not worthy of health care?”

Edwards also said the minimum wage should be $9.50 – not $7.25. This plays big with just-folks here in Iowa – many of whom who may see Hillary and Obama as more the candidates of the elite, the educated. You see, people who wear name tags and uniforms to work (some with two jobs) relate to those burdened, screwed-over and beat-down characters in the aforementioned Grisham novels. Edwards reaches them in a way Obama and Clinton just have not to this point.

Edwards, Clinton and Obama all had strong showings with signs. Others surely have opinions on this but from my vantage point on a press riser just to the left of the stage I had a decent view out over the crowd of 12,000 people. I’d say Obama and Hillary had Edwards beat on signs – but I’m not calling it for HRC or Obama. In terms of the roads in to the event, the Hillary Machine dominated – but one Obama volunteer told that’s because his people followed the rules with placement (at least for a while) while Hillary’s workers put up signs with the same abandon shown by teen-agers teepeeing a teacher’s house on a Friday night.

For his part, Biden, who spoke last, wisely recognized the weariness in the crowd, and gave remarks that fell short of his allotted 15 minutes.

“This election is as serious as a heart attack,” Biden said.

Biden’s case – and it’s a good one but probably not enough to compete with celebrity (you know who) and familiarity (Edwards) is this: George W. Bush has just told the nation that the War in Iraq will not end during his administration. This means the next president will have to deal with the war. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Biden thinks he’s best suited for the role of clean-up man in Iraq, that he’s the guy you want going to the plate in the ninth inning with runners on.

“What we say and do the remainder of this campaign will affect our ability to do that,” Biden said.

Dodd spent a good deal of time talking about Senator Harkin’s merits – something most of the people at the steak fry have been sold on since before the Reagan Administration.

And then he got off this hokey line about the Iowa State Fair: “I had no idea what you could put on a stick in this state,” Dodd joked.

Not too many Iowans know you can put a sign with Dodd’s name on a stick, though.

This story is cross-posted on Iowa

No comments: