DES MOINES, Iowa — “I’m a seventh-generation Iowan,” Rep. Michele Bachmann began, introducing herself this morning to a group of 40 or so Iowans who already knew who she was from her frequent TV and radio appearances. They had come to a coffee house despite the snow and sub-zero wind chill to see just what the presidential aspirant and founder of the House Tea Party Caucus was like in person.
Her talk was filled with red-meat rhetoric on the national debt, federal “overspending” and a need to rein in an ever-expanding federal government.
Her staff (four of them, plus her husband, Marcus, made the trip) brought freebies — on the tables of the Smokey Row coffee shop were baseball-style cards with Bachmann’s picture on the front and “stats” listing her husband, children and various political tidbits. Her political affiliation was listed as “Constitutional Conservative.”
The coffee shop event was not technically open to the public.
A few invitees heard about it through text messages and emails from Bachmann’s team, but most of them found out through the grapevine that inevitably followed. A FoxNews crew was the only media outlet officially allowed to document it, although MinnPost and the Des Moines Register independently learned of the event, showed up and, after a short exclusion, were allowed access.
There’s an oft-told joke to describe crowds like this, though it’s more true than funny. You know the game 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon? In Iowa, you only need two or three. So with the help of some Iowa insiders who stopped by, we pieced together a list of political insiders who showed up.
State Rep. Kim Pearson, a rising star often compared to Bachmann or Iowa Rep. Steve King, was here, as was Ryan Rhodes of the Tea Party Patriots. Also at the coffee shop: a state central committee member, a former congressional candidate, two county party officials, heads of at least three 9/12-styled groups and aides to several state officials whom Bachmann wasn’t able to schedule time with on this trip.
Pearson is one of two names frequently mentioned in GOP and media circles here (aside from King) as someone who might eventually back Bachmann’s bid. The other, state Sen. Kent Sorenson, gets a meeting later today.
“I think she’s fantastic,” Pearson said, although she, like most, won’t commit until later. “I’ve been following Michele Bachmann for a long time. It’s Michele Bachmann and Steve King — they’re held in very high regard with the Tea Party movement.”
Bachmann, a native of Waterloo, came south here to dip her toes in the presidential waters and today provided for her a preview of almost everything she’d be doing from here forward if and when she does get in.
Interviews with Iowa conservative talk radio hosts and local media were taped before she stepped on a plane to Des Moines. Today includes meetings with Gov. Terry Branstad and Iowa Republican Party chief Matt Strawn (essential stops even though neither of them will likely endorse before the caucuses), as well as the Republican leaders of the state Senate and House.
Update: Bachmann had arrived more than an hour late, and while most attendees seemed to just roll with the delay, some said Bachmann left a bad first impression. As one unnamed attendee told Real Clear Politics:
“You can get away with this stuff in D.C. or New York, but it doesn’t fly in Iowa,” one of the meeting attendees told RealClearPolitics. “Out here, people keep you to your word when you say you’re going to be somewhere.”
Tonight, after a VIP reception with activists, Bachmann will give a speech at the downtown Marriott to a group organized by Iowans for Tax Relief. It’s sold out, and at last count 61 media members were credentialed and organizers tell us that half the crowd haven’t ever been to an ITR event before.
But the biggest test so far today was that coffee shop, where Bachmann faced an event she’ll have to master if she eventually fully commits to a presidential run.
“[Iowans] are looking for leadership; not ‘Can they lead a group?’ but ‘Can they lead the country?’ ” said Susan Geddes of nearby Indianola. And after Bachmann’s homespun speech and a question-and-answer session littered with words like “Constitution,” “oversight,” “deficit,” “reign in,” “privacy” and “Obamacare,” Geddes pronounced her ready.
“I think she can lead the country,” said Geddes, who like most likely caucusgoers have said they won’t make up their minds finally until months from now, once they’ve seen as many of these would-be commanders in chief in person as possible.
“We’re just getting to know her. I’ve done a bit of research, but I think she’ll make a great president.”
Bachmann has already committed to at least one return trip, in April to give a one-day series of talks in three locations across the state. She’s got several more invites pending and hinted strongly she’d be back to Iowa for more.
As the coffee hour finally drew to a close, after the Q&A, handshakes and a dozen or so photos, and as her staffers were shooing her to her next meetings, Bachmann asked the crowd loudly, “Can we have coffee again?”
“You can come back anytime, dear!” one man shouted back.