Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Aug. 12 2011 12:51 PM


AMES, Iowa -- Most of the GOP's presidential candidates who are competing here are cycling in and out of the Des Moines Register's soapbox stage. Herman Cain drew a crowd of at least 150 for his speech; most of that crowd left before Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, R-Mich., got to take his shot.


McCotter got into the race after (not entirely because of) becoming a sort of star on talk radio and Fox News, especially the late-night show Red Eye. This fame does not fully translate to Iowa. As McCotter talked, semi-plugged in Iowans glanced at him, shrugged, and move on. One older woman gave a thumbs down as she walked, indicating to her friends that they should go somewhere else. Another asked: "Is that the governor of Minnesota?"

There were missing a dry and wonky speech, if we are willing to define wonkery as themes and not numbers. "The problem with Obamacare is two-fold," said McCotter, to pick one example. "One is the presence of comparative effectiveness research. The other is economics."

The questions didn't really burrow into the economics. Ronald Van Genderen, a retiree from central Iowa wearing a John Deere T-Shirt, asked McCotter, sarcastically, what the qualities of a good politician were.

"One is good hair," said McCotter, "and the other is make-up. But I assume you're asking what are the qualities of a reliable public servant."

Van Genderen, who heard most of the Q&A after that, didn't really have an opinion on what McCotter said. "If Sarah Palin gets in, she's my candidate," he said. "If she'd been the nominee in 2008, she would have won."

McCotter ran out of people to call on in short order.

"It's beginning to look like the Gong Show," he said. "Thank you, Iowa! I'm off to see the butter cow."

He walked off the stage to talk to more voters, waxing long and wittily/depressingly about the danger of repeating Europe's bailouts. A crowd began to form, but it was for Rick Santorum, who bounded up to the stage in a white polo shirt and pale jeans.

"Hi, Thad!" he said.

"Keep an eye on Gresham," said McCotter, referring to the former South Carolina congressman who's taking Santorum around today.

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics


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