Ten Republican candidates turned up at the Iowa state fairgrounds on Saturday to speak to an audience of about 2,000. All but one of them delivered a stump speech.
Chris Christie was the exception. He spent all of his time answering questions. His answers were on point and forceful. This was probably the most impressive performance of the day.
Some who gave stump speeches modified or updated them to reflect new developments like the debate earlier in the week or the budget deal. Rand Paul did this. So did Ted Cruz, who also talked about his new tax plan — no tax on the first $36,000 for a family of four, a 10 percent flat rate for income above that amount. (The retired accountant sitting next to me said the numbers don’t add up).
Other candidates, notably Marco Rubio and Carly Fiorina, gave their stock speech with no apparent modification. These are powerful speeches, though, and many in the crowd were hearing them for the first time.
There were no bad speeches. In fact I thought all were excellent except for Rick Santorum’s. The Pennsylvania man spent way too much time talking about his campaign victories from decades ago and the Gingrich revolution of the mid-1990s.
I know this worked for Santorum in 2012, but it is now past its sell-by date, I’m pretty sure.
Rather than rate the other speeches, I will report the audience reaction at the end of each appearance.
The following candidates failed, as best I could tell, to get half of the crowd on its feet: Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum (he spoke last and much of the crowd had left or was leaving), and probably Bobby Jindal.
Jeb Bush received a standing ovation from at least half the crowd, I estimate. Lindsey Graham cleared the 50 percent mark. This is surprising unless you heard the speech. I have to hand it to the “Arlen Specter of the South.”. He was funny, folksy, passionate, and at times almost spell binding. Fortunately, he is a no-hoper in this race.
Chris Christie also cleared 50 percent, and pretty comfortably I thought. He deserved it for devoting his time exclusively to audience questions and handling them well.
Carly Fiorina had around two-thirds of the audience standing, it seemed to me. She also drew a big crowd after the speech when she went to her campaign’s table. I was among them. (More about this later).
The two candidates who brought the most folks to their feet were Cruz and Rubio. Cruz also received rock star treatment afterwards from dozens of attendees.
However, based on my talks with voters in Council Bluffs and Des Moines, there is voter resistance to the Texas Senator. Some of it seems based on likeability and some on electability concerns. To be fair, though, Cruz came off as likable on Saturday.
Even with Donald Trump and Ben Carson absent, this was a talented, impressive array of candidates. Talented and impressive enough to make me regret that Trump and Carson won’t remain absent.