Nine presidential hopefuls courted Iowa Republicans this weekend at an Iowa GOP banquet. Each was given a turn behind the microphone and some of those who aren’t among the leaders of the pack in the polls took aim at the frontrunners.
Former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore drew gasps from many in the crowd, and a few boos, with his attack on rivals Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and Mitt Romney. "Don’t be fooled by people who come to you, lately, and say that they’re conservatives," Gilmore said. "I can assure you, ladies and gentlemen, that ‘Rudy McRomney’ is not a conservative and he knows he’s not a conservative."
Gilmore, a former prosecutor, also took aim at Fred Thompson, the actor who is now considering a run for the GOP’s presidential nomination. "Many people, you know, will tell you, ‘Well, you know, what we really want is somebody who’s played a prosecutor on t.v.’ I don’t think so," Gilmore said. "I think the American people would rather have the real thing — somebody who’s actually stood up in a courtroom."
Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo questioned whether his rivals had a commitment to dealing with illegal immigrants. "Many have even recently converted to our cause. They are welcome, of course," Tancredo said. "But my concern is that their conversations have occurred not on the road to Damascus, but on the road to Des Moines."
Two of the perceived front-runners made their cases without attacking other Republicans. Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani was first to speak and seemed to be trying to forewarn the audience of the criticism to come. "Neither party has a monopoly on virtue or vice," Giuliani told the crowd. "When you start thinking that, you get all confused."
Most of the other candidates simply glossed over the war, but Arizona Senator John McCain spent the bulk of his speech talking about Iraq. "We have a new strategy and we have a new general and we can and will prevail and succeed in Iraq," McCain said. "We can do it. It is tough. It’s hard. It’s difficult, but as we speak today there are young men and women who are in neighborhoods of Baghdad along with Iraqi soldiers fighting side-by-side and staying and holding and bringing peace to some of these neighborhoods. They’re not safe, but they’re safer."
Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, cast himself as an outsider, a businessman, who could bring change to Washington. "If there’s ever been a time that we need change in Washington, D.C. — it’s now," Romney said. "I’m concerned that Washington hasn’t made the changes it needs to make, in part because of all the politicians spending so much time talking and debating and arguing and bickering instead of getting the job done."
Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee invited a comedian onstage who took a direct shot at Romney, and then Huckabee himself challenged the conservative credentials of some of his rivals. "Every single person who comes to this podium tonight is going to tell you that he’s a true conservative. Now, you’ll have to sort out whether that’s true," Huckabee said. "Let me tell you the good news — at least it proves that in our party it still matters to be a conservative and no one but a conservative has any hope of getting elected to the presidency from the Republican Party in 2008."
Kansas Senator Sam Brownback used part of his time to call on the music industry to pull all music that uses the same words that radio talk show host Don Imus was fired for uttering. "What Don Imus said is wrong. Now, I’ll let others determine whether the punishment and the crime fit, but for goodness sake, let’s stop having billion dollar record companies target-market the same language to teenagers through music," Brownback said, as the audience broke out in applause. "I think we need to shine a light in some in the entertainment industry and the music industry in particular that profit from celebrating and glorifying the degradation of women."
Former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson told the crowd he has always been the underdog, but has always outworked his opponents and won. "I am in Iowa, ladies and gentlemen, every single week. Ever since the first of December and somebody says to me, ‘You’re here so often, Tommy, you’re going to have to start paying taxes.’ Not with this governor, I’m not going to," Thompson said, poking at Iowa’s Democratic Governor, Chet Culver. "I’m here every week to see you, to look you straight in the eye and tell you I’m for real."
Chicago businessman John Cox told the crowd he was doing the "crazy thing’ of running for president because he wants his party to return to its Reagan roots. "Send a message to the media. Send a message to the political elites in Washington. We want principles back in our government. We want true, fiscal discipline," Cox said.
Colorado Congressman Duncan Hunter, another GOP presidential candidate, had flight problems and was unable to make it to Iowa this weekend.