DES MOINES -- Perrymania came to Iowa today in the form of seven University of Texas Republicans and their sponsors in a hastily decorated van. The volunteers came on behalf of Americans for Rick Perry, a California-based committee to draft the governor of Texas into the Republican race. They parked next to the State Capitol, across from the Values Voter tour bus that was about to announce its pre-straw poll social conservative jamboree, and proceeded to crash the party.
"We're going to follow the bus all the way to Ames," promised Nate Crain, the group's Dallas-based finance chairman. "We're making one-to-one contact with voters." There's a write-in line on the straw poll, so they can campaign for the governor all day Saturday, handing out goodies, as the news breaks that he's getting into the race.
The students, who preferred to pass questions on to the group's leaders, gathered outside their van. "It's real grassroots, isn't it?" Perry signs were etched on posterboard and duct-taped on, so I had to agree. The students made the rounds of the sparsely attended rally, handing out cards with info about the "Rick Perry Record." ("Over a 10-year period, Texas' gross state product grew 28% fast than the rest of the country." "Governor Perry has increased border security along the Texas-Mexican border.")
It was all a little awkward, because the only presidential candidate actually attending the rally was Tim Pawlenty. He wasn't good enough for the Longhorns. (They wore orange colors despite Perry's Aggie roots. Crain assured me the colors were supposed to represent Texas, universally.)
"Pawlenty's from Minnesota, right?" asked Ryan Ellis, a law student at UT. "When he left, the debt was higher. He had to raise taxes. Perry didn't do any of that."
Pawlenty showed up on time and gave a short speech, reminding media and voters that he was "the co-author of the successful Defense of Marriage Act" in Minnesota. He walked out of the rally shortly thereafter, posing for a photo wearing a National Organization for Marriage sticker. A reporter barked a question as he posed: "What do you think of Gov. Perry getting into the race on Saturday?"
Pawlenty asked his communications director if there'd be a reporter availability at that moment. Nope. So Pawlenty apologetically said "we're not doing a scrum," and walked into his RV.
By this point, most of the cameras at the rally had either followed Pawlenty or trained on the Perry campaigners. The rally wrapped in a hurry, after one speaker held up a tiny plastic baby to demonstrate how developed fetuses were in early stages of pregnancy. Bob Vander Plaats, CEO of the Iowa FAMiLY Leader, stuck around for questions... about Perry. the governor had left him a voicemail, he said.
"It definitely looks like he's going to get in," Vander Plaats said. "He just said he wants to come out to Iowa and meet me, and wants to know if there's room for a full-throttled, unapologetic conservative. And there's always room for that."
What about the other candidates? "Tim Pawlenty has a Huckabee-like quality," said Vander Plaats. "He wears well. He's more of the tortoise in the race. Michele Bachmann has a certain pizzaz."