GOP candidates stump Iowa-style
Sen. Joni Ernst’s event draws presidential hopefuls for pig roast and motorcycle ride.
DES MOINES — As Republican presidential hopefuls negotiated a motorcycle ride and pig roast Saturday in Iowa farm country, the race was on for who had more swagger: the bikers vying to become the party’s nominee, or the female senator leading the trip.
There was Scott Walker, the Wisconsin governor who is not yet an official candidate for president, front and center on a shiny silver Harley-Davidson.
And there was former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, riding in from the next town over, who enjoys the Iowa street cred of one who often appears more at home in blue jeans and cowboy boots than suits.
But Joni Ernst, the first woman to represent Iowa in Congress — who promised, in a memorable campaign ad, to apply her farm experience cast rating hogs tomaking Washington “squeal” — may emerge as the day’s leader of the pack.
“Ride to live, live to ride!” the Republican senator cheered outside Big Barn Harley-Davidson in Des Moines before climbing aboard her 2009 Softail Deluxe and heading out for the 38-mile trip to host a pig roast in Boone.
“Joni’s 1st annual Roast and Ride” was part fundraiser, part campaign stop on the road to Iowa’s first-inthe-nation presidential caucus next year, drawing not only Walker and Perry, but Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Carly Fiorina.
Rubio, who didn’t ride but was planning to join the roast, provided much of the buzz as Iowans begin to take a closer look at the candidate, whom they ranked second, after Walker, in the crowded GOP field, according to a recent Bloomberg Politics-Des Moines Register poll.
But Saturday also served as a coming-out for Ernst, the 44-year-old Army Reserve officer who wowed the political establishment when she won the open Senate seat last fall.
Ernst has taken the old fashioned approach to starting her Senate career. She has kept a lower profile than some of her fellow freshmen, as Senate tradition prefers, and has quietly gone about the business of doing her job, much the way another trailblazing female senator, Hillary Rodham Clinton, once did.
She voted yes on the party’s budget, no on reforms of the National Security Agency surveillance program, and, at home, is visiting every one of the state’s 99 counties, an Iowa tradition pioneered by the state’s senior senator, Charles E. Grassley, and now known as the “Full Grassley.”
Saturday’s event, though, offered the opportunity for her to raise her profile.
“I love a senator who knows how to castrate a pig, ride a hog and cut the pork in Washington, D.C.,” Walker said, taking the stage amid hay bales and country music at the Central Iowa Exposition grounds in Boone. “Now wouldn’t it be nice togive her an ally in the White House to help get the job done?”
As nearly 300 bikers gathered to ride at the Harley-Davidson dealership just north of downtown, many residents appeared ready to hear the candidates out, regardless of their roadside abilities.
“My mind’s not made up,” said “Mohawk” Mike Right, an education specialist for a motorcycle advocacy group.
Ernst, who has not endorsed any of the candidates even though Rubio was an early backer of her Senate campaign, said she too was keeping an open mind.
“What I’m looking for is a candidate who’s going to stand up and defend the Constitution,” said Ernst, in jeans, boots and black leather biker vest, with a fanny pack slung at her waist.
On that, the riders, before boarding their bikes, hollered approval.
GOV. SCOTT WALKER ofWisconsin, who has not yet announced his presidential bid, rides to the roast.