(Amana, Iowa) After 500 people finished their corn-on-the cob and pork on the plate meal, a huge door on the steel-sided building — a door big enough for a tractor to drive through — was raised, revealing a perfect, powder blue sky, fluffy white clouds — and the front-runner for the Republican party’s next presidential nomination.
Texas Governor George W. Bush quickly acknowledged expectations were “sky high” for this, his first trip of the campaign. Then, Bush quickly fueled those expectations.
“I’m runnin’ for President of the United States, ” Bush told the crowd, which rose to its feet. “There’s no turnin’ back and I intend to be the next President of the United States.”
That means he’d follow in his father’s footsteps, the elder George Bush who won Iowa’s 1980 Caucuses, a victory which helped vault him into the Vice Presidency. But a 1988 defeat for the elder Bush, a third place finish in the Iowa Caucuses, bears a warning for the son.
“We’re so by-god stubborn,” Iowa Congressman Jim Nussle sang as an introduction for Bush. Finishing the song from “The Music Man” — Nussle challenged Bush “You really ought to give Iowa…ought to give Iowa a try.”
Bush launched into a speech which outlined his “compassionate conservatism” and talked about “prosperity with a purpose.”
“America will be prosperous and strong if we do the right things. But prosperity alone is simply materialism. Prosperity must have a greater purpose. The success of America has never been proven by cities of gold, but by citizens of character,” Bush said.
He mentioned our “better angels” — conjuring up President Lincoln — and talked about a “moral line in the sand” — a subtle prompt reminding a few in the audience of his dad’s success in the Gulf War.
Bush talked about his “heart” and his “vision.” He wowed a handful of Iowans who used to live in Equador, some of the “new faces and new voices” Bush promises to attract to the Republican fold.
“Tell the families, from the barrios of L.A. to the Rio Grande Valley: ‘El sueno amiercano es para ti,” Bush said.
“Oh, he’s a very honest politician and he has a good future for this country and for the state of Iowa,” said Rick Sanchez, who’s been living in Cedar Rapids for the past seven years.
“I just like a lot of the things he’s for,” Robert Ohlen of Blairstown, Iowa said after the speech.
But some in the crowd weren’t ready to fully commit to being a Bush backer and needed more specifics from the Texas Governor.
He sought to allay some fears in his second speech of the day by talking about a “touchstone” issue in Iowa: ethanol.
“People are wondering whether a guy from an oil state can come up here and…look straight into the cameras and talk about ethanol and the subsidy,” he said. “I’ll start right today. I’m a plain-spoken fella. I support the ethanol subsidy and I will do so tomorrow because not only is it good for agriculture, it’s good for the air quality of America.”
In that speech to those who are signed-on as Bush supporters, he said he’s “some kind of fired up” about the first big test of the Iowa campaign, the Iowa Republican Party’s strawpoll which gauges the
organizational strengths and weaknesses of the presidential campaigns.
“Here’s my view. I think we not only ought to go to compete, I think we oughta win the Ames strawpoll,” he said, to applause.
During an interview with Radio Iowa, Bush reflected on his father’s experiences in Iowa and how he intends to conduct his own race. “W” is no stranger to Iowa politics. He watched and helped his dad campaign here.
“I’ve seen victory and I’ve seen defeat. I was here both times. The victory night was a lot better than the defeat night,” he said, with a smile and a laugh.
The new Bush in boots is armored with charm and wit, delivered with that Texas drawl which mangles words like “mirror” and drops the final consonants from words like “running” and “winning.”.
“I know what I need to do and first and foremost is share my heart, and talk about why I’m runnin’ and talk about my beliefs and shake as many hands as I can and look people in the eye and say, ‘What’s on your mind?” Bush said, repeating the phrases he’s been greeting questioners with for months..
At the end of his campaign day, Bush repeated the speech he delivered in Amana, only this time the crowd was over 2,000. The setting was a huge exhibit hall on the Iowa State Fairgrounds. His
backdrop was a huge American flag. The music was country. The crowd was casual and he ventured out in it, surrounded by the national media and followed by the lens a campaign video camera which broadcast a picture of Bush and entourage on two, big screens flanking the stage.
“It’s been quite a day here in Iowa and I’m really glad I came,” Bush declared before boarding his plane, Great Expectations, and heading for his dad’s birthday party in Kennebunkport, Maine and more campaigning in New Hampshire.