Governor Terry Branstad's official photo.

Governor Terry Branstad’s official photo.

Governor Terry Branstad thanked his wife, his family, his staff, his supporters and the people of Iowa tonight an event held to commemorate his new status as the nation’s longest-serving governor.

“You’ve given me the opportunity of a lifetime. I will never forget it. Thank you,” Branstad said, as the crowd stood to applaud. “God bless you all.”

Over 1,300 people gathered for a nearly three-hour “Milestone” celebration in Des Moines. Monsignor Frank Bognanno is the pastor of Christ the King Catholic Church where the Branstads attend mass. He called Branstad “the pride of Iowa” during the opening prayer.

“Father, we thank you in a particular way tonight for Governor Branstad’s selfless sharing of his unique gifts,” the monsignor prayed.

Branstad was interviewed on stage during the event by John Dickerson, the host of “Face the Nation” on CBS and Branstad brought down the house with a reference to his wedding day at that church.

“You know what happened on June 17 of ’72? That’s the date of the Watergate break-in. That’s the date of our wedding at Christ the King church, so I had witnesses,” Branstad quipped. “I had a great alibi.”

Dickerson laughed, along with the crowd, and replied: “That’s the most extravagant alibi I’ve ever heard of.”

Branstad talked about his childhood in Winnebago County and admitted to a little bit of subterfuge when he was a student at the University of Iowa and his advisor was out of the country and couldn’t sign off on his registration for the semester.

“I knew what classes I wanted to take. I knew what I had to do to graduate and so my buddy who was from Britt, Iowa, he and I just decided, ‘They’ll just look for a signature,’ so we just invented Chester P. Dingleberry…Every year I got through registration. I’d hand in my deal. Nobody ever said anything,” Branstad said, as the audience laughed. “…I passed my classes and I graduated.”

Branstad reminisced about all the races he’s run since 1972.

“I always said this: ‘The harder you work, the luckier you get,”” Branstad said. “I’ve never lost an election, but I don’t think anybody’s every worked harder than I have as a candidate, so I think that helps.”

Branstad also talked about experiences with presidential campaigns dating back to 1976. Branstad touted the importance of the state’s ethanol industry and expressed the hope that Iowa Caucus voters in 2016 “would hold candidates accountable” if they oppose the Renewable Fuels Standard.

“If we had a more robust Renewable Fuels Standard, we’d have a lot better farm income,” Branstad said.

Dickerson asked: “Make it a voting issue?”

Branstad replied: Yes, well, my oldest son is working on that…My son (Eric Branstad) tells me they’ve got 50,000 people of both parties that have signed up and say they’re going to the Caucus — a lot of these people have never gone before — because of the importance of renewable fuel.”

Iowa’s two U.S. Senators sent video messages to praise Branstad and former Democratic Congressman Leonard Boswell was there in person to congratulate the governor on setting a new national record of longevity in office.

“I don’t care if we’re Republican, Democrat, independent or something else,” Boswell said, “this is a great occasion and we all ought to be proud that this has happened.”

The profits from tonight’s ticket sales as well as the profits from the sale of Branstad’s new biography are all being deposited in a new fund Branstad’s created to finance Iowa history projects.