DES MOINES, Iowa — Presidential primary debates are rarely “game changers” — those truly unpredictable events that alter the course of a campaign. Instead they provide candidates the opportunity to define themselves and their place in the campaign narrative.
Last night, Tim Pawlenty needed to prove that he could not only throw a knock-out punch at his main rival at Saturday’s Ames Straw Poll, Michele Bachmann, but to also look genuine and comfortable while doing it.
In the end, the former Minnesota governor succeeded in getting in some dings on the Minnesota congresswoman — and even GOP front-runner Mitt Romney — but he did not seem to score the K.O. he might have been hoping for. Moreover, Pawlenty never looked entirely confident in the role.
Bachmann, meanwhile, relishes the role of the happy warrior, unafraid to both defend her record as well as launch attacks of her own. http://abcn.ws/pCbnam
Turning directly toward Pawlenty, Bachmann recited her own version of his time as governor, saying that his record “sounds a lot more like Barack Obama, if you ask me.” Pawlenty shook his head as she spoke.
“I’m really surprised that Congresswoman Bachmann would say those things,” he fired back. “She has a record of misstating and making false statements.” Turning Bachmann’s frequently-used line — that she has a “titanium spine” — against her, Pawlenty said, “It’s not her spine we’re worried about. It’s her record of results.”
He added, “If that’s your view of effective leadership with results, please stop, because you’re killing us.”
The question now is whether this debate is indicative of success this weekend at the straw poll.
Pawlenty's style may not play well on TV, but insiders here in Iowa are convinced that his commitment to grassroots campaigning and organizing will pay off. Iowa Republican Party Chairman Matt Strawn said after the debate that “it raises the stakes” for the contest in Ames on Saturday.
“Clearly the candidates understand the need to do well in the eyes of the Iowa caucus voters especially those that will be here on Saturday and I think you saw that in some of the aggressiveness from some of the candidates who are competing aggressively on Saturday — and I think that’s a good thing,” Strawn said. “I think Iowa Republicans are looking for leadership and are looking for those shades of differentiation between the candidates.”
Meanwhile, many here are skeptical that Bachmann's fiery performances on stage can translate to a solid performance in Ames. Former Iowa GOP executive director Chuck Laudner told the Note last night that while Bachmann, has "caught lightening in a bottle" she hasn't yet "found the cork.”
ABC’s Jake Tapper takes a closer look at the political punches thrown at last night’s debate: http://abcn.ws/orQDZM
SPIN CYCLE. Here’s what we heard in the spin room after last night’s debate, which was held in the Stephens Auditorium on the campus of Iowa State University, courtesy of ABC’s Matthew Jaffe:
Nick Ayers, Pawlenty campaign manager: “We’ve got a candidate who tonight on stage was very comfortable talking about why he’s running for president of the United States and very comfortable defending his record and that’s resonating with Iowans. And if it didn’t we wouldn’t have Michele Bachmann showing up with a pre-planned assault full of misstatements and factual inaccuracies… If we weren’t gaining traction and we weren’t a threat to the support that she’s built here in Iowa, we would be ignored.”
Alice Stewart, Bachmann’s spokeswoman, on the question her boss received about whether she would be “submissive” to her husband: “The question in and of itself, we saw it as an opportunity for her to clear up any concerns people may have had about that word. … For Michele and her husband that’s the way they describe their relationship in terms of having a mutual respect for each other — and they do, they have a fantastic marriage, a very loving couple.”
Herman Cain, presidential candidate: “The most important issue to young voters today is understanding just how bad this country is in terms of the direction. They need to understand that this economy is on life support. They need to understand that spending in Washington, DC, is on steroids.”
Craig Robinson, author of The Iowa Republican, website: “I really think Newt Gingrich probably had the best debate performance. I think taking on the debate moderators was risky, but I think it showed his seriousness in wanting to talk about the issues instead of petty questions that people aren’t necessarily interested in… I think Pawlenty came out on top of that. I thought he looked a little more presidential in it.”
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, on his straw poll prediction: “I think that if there’s a low turnout, Ron Paul’s got the organization. He spent five years working on it. He should not be underestimated.”
THE OBAMA FACTOR. ABC’s Mary Compton keeps count of some interesting stats.
Candidates mentioned “Barack Obama” or “President Obama” a total of 32 times at last night’s debate.
Pawlenty: 14; Bachmann: 7; Romney: 5; Santorum: 2; Huntsman: 2; Gingrich: 1; Paul: 1; Cain: 0
Candidates mentioned “Obamacare” a total of 14 times:
Romney: 4; Pawlenty: 3; Bachmann: 3; Gingrich: 3; Huntsman: 1; Santorum: 0; Cain: 0; Paul: 0
DEMOCRATS PUSH BACK. After last night’s debate the Democratic National Committee released a video, "GOP 2012: Pledging Allegiance to the Tea Party,” which the DNC says, highlights “how all the Republican candidates showed their unbridled allegiance to the Tea Party and their extreme ideas throughout the debate.” WATCH: http://bit.ly/n4WPpK
IN THE NOTE’S IN BOX: TODAY IN IOWA: “Today at 10:30 AM CDT at Smoky Row Coffee Shop in Des Moines, DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Congressman Leonard Boswell and the Iowa Democratic Party will hold a roundtable discussion on the disastrous GOP agenda in advance of the GOP straw poll in Ames.”
RICK PERRY WATCH: ALL IN. Just hours before last night’s debate, Rick Perry made it official. The Texas governor is all in the 2012 race, ABC’s Arlette Saenz reports. This was the running narrative all week as it was reported Monday he'd use his South Carolina speech Saturday to make his presidential intentions clear. But the Perry camp's move to announce he's officially running yesterday inserted the Texas governor into the debate even more, just two days before the Ames Straw Poll, where he is not included in the ballot. (Grassroots supporters are pushing for a write-in campaign.)
AXELROD ON ‘GMA’: PERRY HAS A RECORD OF ‘DECIMATION’ That’s what the Obama campaign’s top political strategist told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos this morning when he asked him about the latest 2012 candidate, Rick Perry. The Texas Governor made it clear his campaign will focus on his state’s record of job growth — Texas created more jobs than any other state since the recession. “When you examine the entire record what’s happened to education in that state, what’s happened to health care in that state, it’s a record of decimation not of progress,” David Axelrod told Stephanopoulos. “I don’t think the picture of Texas is what people want for the country when you look at the whole array of things that happened there,” he said. Texas’ record of job creation has more to do with profits from the oil industry, a growing military and receiving aid from the Recovery Act, according to Axelrod. http://abcn.ws/qFzDQ2 VIDEO: http://abcn.ws/qKENmW
TRAVELS WITH PERRY. Perry will travel to Birmingham, Alabama today for the state's Republican party fundraiser before heading to Charleston for his official announcement speech before an expected crowd of 550 people. He will then swing through New Hampshire and Iowa, meeting one of his main contenders in Waterloo, Iowa — Michele Bachmann. Not to be upstaged by the Texas governor, Bachmann, who was born in Waterloo, announced she will also speak at the Black Hawk GOP Lincoln Day Dinner Sunday evening.
VIDEO OF THE DAY: Where was Perry when news of his official announcement crossed the wires? The Texas governor was taping an interview at KVUE, a local ABC affiliate in Austin, and reporters there asked him about the news. When presented with a printout copy of the story, he signed and dated it in all capital letters. http://abcn.ws/qES5DQ
GUESS WHO’S COMING TO IOWA? Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is expected to drop by the Iowa State Fair, but the details of her visit remain shrouded in secrecy. Last night the pro-Palin website, Conservatives for Palin, sent out this tweet:
THE NOTE ON THE ROAD: All week ABC News reporters are on the campaign trail in the Hawkeye State, keeping an eye on the candidates and talking to Iowa voters along the way. ABC will offer complete coverage of tomorrow’s Straw Poll in Ames.
Keep up with our regular dispatches from the road all day long on ABC.com’s Note blog “On The Trail” feature: http://abcn.ws/qoLwNb
THIS WEEK ON “THIS WEEK”: PAWLENTY AND BACHMANN. ABC’s Jake Tapper anchors a special edition of “This Week” from Iowa on Sunday. In a special edition of the show, broadcast live from Ames, Iowa, site of tomorrow’s straw poll, Tapper will speak with top Republican contenders Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty.
Then, the "This Week" roundtable analyzes Thursday's presidential debate and the Iowa Straw Poll results. Who were the big winners and losers? How will Gov. Rick Perry's likely entry change the dynamics of the race? When will Sarah Palin make her decision whether to run or sit out the 2012 contest? And in one of the worst weeks of his presidency, what will the terrible economy mean for President Barack Obama's reelection chances? Tapper is joined in Ames by ABC's George Will and Matthew Dowd, ABC News Political Director Amy Walter, author and radio host Laura Ingraham, and Radio Iowa News Director O.Kay Henderson.
ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE”: ABC’s Rick Klein and Devin Dwyer hear from Amy Walter, live in Iowa. Amy will break down the Republican presidential primary debate held last night and handicap tomorrow’s Ames Straw Poll. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://abcn.ws/toplineliveabc
“TOP LINE” REPLAY: As we noted above, yesterday Rick Perry confirmed that he will enter the GOP primary race. Before his revelation, “Top Line” heard from Texas Democratic Congressman Lloyd Doggett, who has encouraged Texans to follow Perry and “help introduce him to people around America.” Doggett was critical of the governor, saying his days in office make Democrats long for former President George W. Bush and that truth would be a powerful defense against the Perry campaign moving forward. “Under a Perry administration, we would see significantly more prayer across America,” Doggett told ABC’s “Top Line.” “People would be praying for our country to survive someone whose primary emphasis will be on right-wing ideological zealotry.” http://abcn.ws/pCseXl
NOTABLE: TONIGHT IN THE HAWKEYE STATE: MEDIA AT THE MANSION. Members of the press camped out in Iowa this week are invited to a “Media at the Mansion” reception tonight at Terrace Hill in Des Moines from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. The event, sponsored by several Iowa business groups and companies like Bankers Trust, Meredith Corporation, MidAmerican Energy and Principal Financial Group, will feature cocktails and Iowa foods such as corn budino, lobster terrine with pickled local radishes, butcher crick heirloom tomato tart with La Quercia Lardo Butter and Fresian Farms gouda and apple turnover — all prepared by Iowa chefs. Templeton Rye will serve Old-Fashioneds. The Jazz band, the “Hot Club” of Des Moines will entertain. The bi-partisan welcome committee, “created to showcase the greater Des Moines metro and the state of Iowa,” includes: Eric Branstad – Owner, Matchpoint Strategies; Lauren Burt – Director of Media & Marketing, Greater Des Moines Partnership; Mary Cownie – Director, Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs; Christopher Diebel – Marketing Director, Orchestrate Hospitality. More information: http://www.iacaucusmedia.com/
MITT ROMNEY: ‘CORPORATIONS ARE PEOPLE’ A feisty Mitt Romney faced down unfriendly fairgoers at the Iowa State Fair Thursday, and he also issued an accidental one-liner destined for Democratic attack ads should he become the Republican nominee. "Corporations are people, my friend," he said at one point, during a long back-and-forth on funding for Social Security and whether that funding should be a part of deficit negotiations. "Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid account for about half of federal spending," he said as a heckler shouted, "That's a lie!." "Let him talk," said another member of the audience. "And if we are ultimately – not only this year but in the coming decades – going to be able to balance our federal budget and not spend more than we take in we have to make sure that the promises we make in Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare are promises we can keep. And there are various ways we can do that. One is we can raise taxes on people." http://abcn.ws/nBpTx4
AXELROD VS. ROMNEY: ‘BRAGGADOCIO’ Earlier this week, at an event in Pella, Iowa, Romney made the prediction President Obama “ “won’t carry Iowa in November 2012,” because as Romney put it, “Iowans recognize that his presidency has failed.” In a brief interview with the Note last night in Ames, Iowa, Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod called Romney’s statement “braggadocio” and “locker room towel-snapping.”
@DStraussTheHill: Sen. Chuck Grassley says winners of last night's debates are: Romney, Santorum, and Gingrich.
@karenhanretty: I suspect Huntsman hurt himself w/ donors after last night's debate. $$ looking for the Romney alternative didn't find it last night.
@mikememoli: Monmouth poll in NJ: Gov Christie hits 50% approval for first time
(all times local)
* Mitt Romney travels to New Hampshire where he attends an event at the home of Ovide Lamontagne this evening.
*Rick Perry speaks at a dinner for Alabama Republicans in Birmingham, Ala. tonight.
* Tim Pawlenty is the guest pork chef at the Iowa Pork Producers Association Booth at the Iowa State Fairgrounds at 11 a.m. He then moves to the Soap Box at the Des Moines Register Booth at 12:30 p.m. At 2:30 p.m., Pawlenty takes the Soap Box at the RPI booth. Then at 5:30 p.m., Pawlenty is the guest of honor at a College Students for Pawlenty Pizza Party in Ames.
* Michele Bachmann speaks at an Indianola Town Hall in Iowa at 11:45 a.m. At 2:30 p.m., Bachmann speaks at the "Join Me in Ames Tomorrow!" Rally in Pella. Bachmann appears at the Des Moines Register's Soap Box at 4 p.m. She arrives at a Welcome Home Reception in Urbandale at 5 p.m. At 8:45 p.m., she stops by the Straw Poll Tailgate Party in Ames.
* Ron Paul hosts a meet-and-greet and delivers his soapbox speech at the Iowa State Fair at noon. At 2 p.m., he will give a speech to the National Foundation for Women Legislators in Des Moines. Paul attends a meet-and-greet at the Republican Party of Iowa booth at the State Fair at 3:30 p.m.
* Rick Santorum takes part in a candidate meet-and-greet in Des Moines, Iowa at 9 a.m. At 11:30 a.m. he participates in the Des Moines Register Candidate Soapbox at the Iowa State Fair. Santorum visits the Republican Party of Iowa's fair booth before participating in the FRC Action Bus Stop in Boone at 3:15 p.m. He then follows the FRC Action bus to Marshalltown, where they wills top at 5 p.m., as part of his Santorum Family Tour.
* Herman Cain stops by the National Foundation for Women Legislators meeting in Des Moines, Iowa at 7:45 a.m. At 10 a.m., he attends the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines. At 12:45 p.m., Cain stops by the town square in Albia before going to the town square in Sigourney at 3:15 p.m. as part of his Common Sense Solutions Bus Tour.
* Newt Gingrich serves at the Iowa Pork Producers tent at 1 p.m. at the Iowa state fair.
* Jon Huntsman attends a meet-and-greet in Concord, N.H., at 12:15 p.m.
The Note Futures Calendar: http://abcn.ws/ZI9gV
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