Report from Ames: Pawlenty

Yesterday, the Salem team of Tina Korbe, Townhall’s Guy Benson, and yours truly met in Ames, Iowa to plan our coverage of the presidential debate and straw poll this week.  We took a look at the schedules for each campaign to find events we could cover, but only one candidate had an event in Ames yesterday: Tim Pawlenty.  The former governor of Minnesota arrived at Zeke’s to find about a hundred supporters in an enthusiastic mood for his speech:

We saw a number of homemade signs in this crowd, with plenty of people milling about and discussing their support for Pawlenty — exactly the kind of crowd one would expect to find at an event of this type, of course.  It was a rather intimate venue, as the picture attests, but we also saw a number of media attending, including a videographer from CBS network news.  Michael Barone showed up before Pawlenty did, fresh from a Michele Bachmann event in northern Iowa, and chatted with us, or at least as much as we could over the very loud band that played while we waited for Pawlenty to take the stage.

Mary Pawlenty took the stage first to introduce her husband, and revealed that their two daughters would join the campaign soon as well:

Next, Pawlenty took the stage himself:

Pawlenty goes after Barack Obama pretty hard here — but Obama’s not his only target. He’s hitting Bachmann by proxy with his warnings about backing a candidate without executive experience, especially when he says, “Before you put someone in the Oval Office, make him or her President of the United States, Commander in Chief, and leader of the free world, he’d better be ready for the job.”  That’s going to be the line of attack Republicans eventually use against Obama, unless the GOP nominates someone without executive experience. Obviously, Pawlenty is going after the perceived frontrunner for the straw poll, and it will be interesting to see whether he goes after Bachmann in tonight’s debate.

Otherwise, Pawlenty aimed his rhetorical guns at the incumbent.  “Obama was a college professor,” Pawlenty said, “and he’s really good at lecturing the American people.  Barack Obama was in the Senate long enough to have a cup of coffee,” Pawlenty continued, “and then he became President — and we wonder why he’s not up to the job.”  He slammed Obama’s “central planning” approach to economics and told the crowd that the solution is to get government out of the private sector, not expand regulation and command economics.  “The way forward is freedom and free markets,” Pawlenty said.

It was a good speech, and Pawlenty has improved on communicating passion and punch.  His voice sounded a little scratchy after four other events earlier in the day.  Based on the schedules forwarded to me by the various campaigns, it looks like Pawlenty has had the most hectic schedule, which was certainly true today.  He has a must-succeed moment here in Iowa in which he has to place in the money against this field.  With Bachmann soaring in Iowa at the moment and Ron Paul expected to bring his organizational advantage to the caucus, anything less than third place is going to look pretty bad — and even that might be a tough sell to donors after Rick Perry jumps into the race.  Tonight’s debate will be critical for his chances on Saturday, so I’d expect Pawlenty to come out swinging against both Bachmann and Paul over their lack of executive experience.

The three of us will be looking for more events to attend tomorrow and on Friday, although it looks like only Herman Cain will have an event in Ames before tonight’s debate.  We are planning to hit the state fair to see Sarah Palin’s appearance on Friday and hopefully get some video and reaction; it’s interesting that she isn’t organizing for write-in votes at the straw poll for Saturday.  Keep watching here and at Townhall for more from Iowa.  In the meantime, here are my two Salem Communications colleagues just before Pawlenty took the stage: