WASHINGTON — The critical action at CPAC happens away from the TV cameras, at meet-and-greet events where candidates and potential volunteers get a brief chance to meet, shake hands and recruit one another.
MinnPost attended both Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty’s receptions Wednesday evening, and here’s a look at how Minnesota’s two presidential aspirants wooed the crowd.
Tim Pawlenty has this analogy he likes to use when talking about federal spending — that people behave differently at a cash bar versus an open bar. At an open bar, he wrote in the Manchester (N.H.) Union Leader, “guests tend to consume almost endlessly… with no regard for cost, much less the volume of consumption. People at an open bar are more likely to embarrass themselves, not to mention bankrupt the father of the bride.”
So perhaps it was a little ironic that Pawlenty’s reception at the Ireland’s Four Fields pub here, one Metro subway stop from CPAC’s headquarters, was hyped by a heavy hors d’oeuvres buffet, but also a straight-up open bar. Those who chose to drink mostly picked beer, though I saw at least one salt-rimmed margarita out there.
Pawlenty staffers say they were expecting about 150 people to show up. The bar’s capacity is 199 inside, and frankly it looked like even more than that had crammed in somehow.
Several of them could be described as current, former or potential paid staffers. Consultants from early presidential states mingled with Pawlenty’s PAC staff, and several of Pawlenty’s former staffers from his time as governor were on hand too. They were outnumbered though by college students, the folks who would be asked to staff events, make calls and volunteer time for a possible presidential run.
It was mostly an invite-only event, though folks who simply showed up weren’t turned away. Their admission was in exchange for signing in, providing a name, phone number and e-mail address, and name tags were provided for ease of networking. Pawlenty worked the crowd after he spoke, posing for pictures and thanking them for coming.
Pawlenty hasn’t formally made a decision on entering the presidential race yet, but it seemed obvious and inevitable to the crowd that he would. He spoke with what seemed to be a hoarsening voice in a very short speech that ended with the former governor telling the crowd that the path to replacing Barack Obama in 2012 started tonight.
Michele Bachmann told the 11,000 CPAC attendees during her Wednesday morning speech that they were all invited to an after party with her and an open bar — quickly caveating that it had a one drink per person limit.
Several hundred took her up on that offer. It’s hard to estimate exactly how many, but her PAC bought 600 coupons good for one drink at any bar in the Marriott Wardman Park and ran out of the coupons before the line ended.
And it was a line. Bachmann was located in a small room at the end of a very long hallway, which was filled with folks waiting for a chance to shake her hand. Volunteers — several of whom were off-the-federal-clock staffers of hers — passed out fliers that asked for basic information, including contact info.
In exchange for that, attendees were shuffled into the suite, two to four at a time. Bachmann stood near an American flag, shook everyone’s hand, made small talk and posed for a picture.
In Iowa, Bachmann’s staff gave out baseball cards with her picture on them. Wednesday, they gave out shirts that looked like baseball jerseys. The name on the back was “Michele Bachmann” and the number was “12”. Bachmann signed one “Michele Bachmann ’12”, so read into that what you will.