Earlier today, I attended a forum hosted by Veterans for a Strong America that included three of the Republican candidates for president as their speakers.  The group wanted to have the concerns of veterans and their families addressed in this campaign, but noted that they are a non-partisan group — which became apparent during a later Q&A.  They plan on inviting President Obama to speak to the group at some point, but for today, the focus was on the Republicans.  Despite its proximity in time and geography to tonight’s debate — just a few hours earlier and across the street from the Drake University hall where the debate will take place — the Varsity Theater cinema didn’t fill up with spectators.  It seemed that there may have been as many media people there as attendees.

First to speak was Newt Gingrich, who spent much of his time talking about China, Mexico, and the Middle East.  As usual, Gingrich offered thoughtful analyses of American policies and emerging threats, while finding ways to work in his views on veterans’ issues.  His wife Callista stood by his side throughout his speech, the only candidate to bring anyone else on stage with him:

The next speaker should have been Michele Bachmann.  However, she didn’t appear at the forum, sending her husband Marcus in her place with no explanation for the change.  Marcus delivered what one would presume to have been the speech Michele would have delivered, and did a pretty good job (I’ve met Marcus a few times, but this is the first time I’ve heard him speak in public).  As one might expect, Bachmann’s speech mainly criticized Obama’s policies in Afghanistan, and worked in an attack on ObamaCare as an issue for veterans and their families.

Rick Santorum spoke next, seemingly extemporaneously on foreign policy and veterans’ affairs.  Santorum focused on Iran and on proper resourcing for the military, but left enough time to take two questions from the audience — the only speaker to do so.  Both questions are in the video below.  The first was a lengthy back-and-forth with a man sitting directly in front of me about global warming and its impact on the military, and the questioner is clearly not happy with Santorum’s dismissal of the concerns.  The second and last question has to do with waterboarding as torture, which Santorum also rejected:

Rick Perry closed out the event, but he had the shortest speech. His presentation started with a campaign video, a compilation of endorsing messages from Medal of Honor recipients and other veterans which was rather impressive. Perry mainly focused his speech on Barack Obama’s foreign policy, at one point stressing that he wouldn’t “lead from the back nine” as Obama has. Compared to other speeches I’ve seen Perry give, he seemed a little tentative and muted, but was warmly received: