Friday, January 06, 2012

On the Road for Rick Perry: Final Day of the First Chapter, pts 1 & 2 - The Adventures of Mr. Ed and Little Punk

“This election is not about me, this election’s about our children, it’s about our grandchildren . And they’re waiting, they’re waiting for us to answer if we’re going to participate, if we’re going to call. This is your country, and your country is calling.”- Gov Rick Perry

This is the tagline to a viral ad released by the campaign on Tuesday, with an implication to the way Perry works the crowds to which he speaks, and the captivating speeches he delivers. The best part: He means them, and has the record to prove his moving words. That's why we're here.
When America is on its knees, he will bring us to our feet.

The morning of Tuesday, January 3rd was the moment for which I'd had been waiting for two months, since I decided to take my passion and dedication to the fields of Iowa. That morning, as I rolled out of bed early I knew sources had indicated Governor Perry was going to give us a “surprise” visit at speaker-training, so I had an extra bounce in my step. I hoped to get a chance to meet him!

As I arrived, the media began forming against the rear wall of the hall like ants at a picnic. The media loves Rick Perry events, and no it’s not because they await a mistake – Gov. Rick Perry is compelling in front of a crowd and captivating on-screen. For as much abuse as he’s received in the media over two or three tiny moments of humanity, the media loves to be around when he speaks because there’s always something to talk about. Substance; emotion; unwavering principle; usually a veteran or two.

The Governor made his entry at about 9:15 am to a room filled to over capacity (approximately 400), sliding down the right side of the room, stopping to shake the hands of every person he could physically reach, and after a brief introduction and with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbot flanking him on his right and left, Perry gave an incredibly moving speech. He compared our energy to the anticipation before Omaha beach, and was actually moved to tears while addressing the crowd because of its overwhelming size and the level of dedication we had all shown.

Politics is filled with a lot of good talkers, great salesmen, clever lawyers and shrewd (if not antithetical) businessmen. However, to this author, one who reads people for a living, I know you need only look in the eyes and watch the body language to know whether a person is genuine. Gov. Rick Perry is about as genuine a man as I’ve met. Slightly shorter than he appears on-screen, more charismatic than you’d think, more emotional than you’d expect and more articulate in a crowd than he’s ever given credit for, this man is inspiring, sharp and motivating. His reminder about the importance of the day (first leg of a long marathon), what we represent (limited government and a moral society), and who we are there for (our children) moved many to tears before he made his way down the center aisle and spent a good 10 minutes reaching every hand to the left and right that he didn’t get before.

As I observed with his wife Anita two days before, he looks you straight in the eye and for a brief moment, you’re all that matters. His expression is not the same every time, and he asks you questions. This was my first time shaking his hand and I managed to get a small snapshot of it (see video attached), but the moment was short lived for me as my friend and co-patriot Bettina Viviano moved upon our favorite Governor with a bear hug and wailing “thank you” and “we love you” into his ear. Poor Rick probably had to rub his ear after that one (I could hear it 10 feet away in a loud, crowded room full of clapping!), but it was a precious moment captured on video and featured in an ad released by his campaign only 6 hours later!

As you can see in the video attached, the clapping was both constant and ear piercing. The crowd was excited, and unified in their vision to bring America back to it's simple roots of Conservative values. The crowd stood twice during his speech, but remained on their feet for the entire 10 minute exit at the end. Just when people feel the most discouraged, a leader arises to lift them to their feet; there's no exaggeration in how this man moves an audience.

After Perry left for afternoon stumping in downtown Des Moines, me and Paulette Miniter paired with Yomi Faparusi to take to the streets with our one last push to get caucus-goers to find a home in Perry’s camp. Earlier that morning, Riley broke my heart by begging me to take him with me. “Daddy, I want to go with you. Please?! I miss you, so that means you have to take me with you!” So, after my fabulous motivational rally that morning, I headed over with Paulette to pick up Riley at the hotel, then to meet Yomi for our afternoon outreach.

Once again, the contacts we made were genuine and more enjoyable than the traditional phone bank tactic; I have found this is my niche, not just because of my familiarity with the method but because I so enjoy the conversations and locality of political discussion with people who care. The voters we descended upon were only previous caucus voters, so they were more engaged than the traditional passersby.

Riley had a blast walking the condos we were assigned. Comprised mostly of 50-60 yr old voters, these homes were very close together and made for easy block walking. Paulette and Yomi took the first few houses, and Riley watched them from the car asking questions, “what are they doing?” or “Why are they talking to that lady?” and “I want to go with them, let’s go daddy, lets GO!”

So after three or four homes, I hopped out with Paulette and we proceeded to talk with a very nice older lady who found Riley adorable as he jumped into her leaves and attacked the mounds of tree fodder that filled the corners of her gangway. She assured me “he’s ok, I don’t mind. I don’t like the leaves anyway.” As I tried asking her serious questions and probed her for the real political concerns she had, Riley kept jumping up and down and yelling “hi-ya! I’m crushing the leaves!” Not exactly the perfect environment for a conversation, but after a few homes it seemed to have a charming effect on the people we visited, and at one home a voter even expressed that she was impressed we were so dedicated to even come out with a child in tow for someone we believed in. Riley, for the record was having a blast carrying literature and killing more leaves. Most of all, it felt good that on a day I was going to be investing at least 12-13 hours working for the campaign, I could spend it with my boy.

The moment came to take Paulette and Yomi back to the hotel, and Paulette had a long trip ahead (and hour and a half) to get to her precinct assignment. I stuck behind to finish up the previous day’s report and take care of some personal business. Riley and I split a plate of $15 Sheraton Hotel nachos and a diet coke before heading out to our own precinct. The energy was high, but the anticipation was reserved.

As the sun was setting in the west, I was out the door headed east, with Little Punk in tow to Des Moines Precinct 83 to represent the man I have chosen to fight with, and fight for. The night was actually growing brighter, not dimmer as I anxiously drove to my destination. We all knew we had a tough, uphill fight ahead of us, but this was the night we had been building this organization for and it was finally SHOW TIME.

(My account of the day was continued in a second piece posting later that day)


"I wanna tell you, there has been no greater joy in my life than to be able to share with the people of Iowa and of this country that there is a model to take this country forward and it is in the great state of Texas.”- Governor Rick Perry

Part Do... or Die
In mid-December, a Progressive voter-awareness group named 'Iowans Fueled With Pride' released a Voters’ Guide before Caucus week. As a lobbying group funded by the ethanol industry, their primary focus was, reaching every one of the tens of thousands of ranchers and corn-growers across Iowa with their message: Perry hates ethanol mandates. Conservative, limited-government Conservatives have developed one vice in the last ten years – ethanol. Especially, in Iowa, the largest corn-producing state in the nation.

Rick Perry's primary Conservative challenger has quickly become Rick Santorum, who consistently was five to ten points behind Perry in the polls until more recently. Shortly after the 'Voters’ Guide' was released, the tide began to shift - significantly. Inside the guide, voters found a list of various fuel standards, fuel mandates and various federal subsidies listed and who supports them. Each policy showed a graph where the current President, Barack Obama marked yes on piece of legislation. The remaining list below showed each GOP candidate in the race and where they stand. With a few exceptions of Bachmann or Paul, every other candidate found themselves in the almost sardonic position of the same “yes” column as Obama. Rick Perry was the ONLY candidate consistently outside that column and against all government meddling in faulty fuel alternatives. This issue turned an otherwise Perry-friendly rural countryside into solid Santorum-land, considering Rick “I’ll defend my earmarks” Santorum has always been very subsidy-friendly, and fits well into the conflicted Conservatism Iowa has long been known for.

Riley and I arrived at our caucus and immediately I went into campaign mode, handing out literature and working the room, introducing myself to voters as they entered the Weeks School auditorium, and pettin' puppies and kissin' babies. I had a few really good conversations and a few really short ones. My most engaging was with a Michelle Bachmann supporter that felt more like an orphan without a home and wanted answers to very serious questions; a Democrat – stretching a too-small Ron Paul R*LOVE*ution t-shirt across his truck-driver frame began arguing with me while talking with the woman. At the first claim of Constitutionality, I hit him with the earmarks abuse that Paul is so well-known for. He said “Ron Paul never votes for them!” to which I replied, “But he inserts them in there, knowing they’ll pass – what’s the difference?” His reply showed the utter ignorance and/or foolishness of these cross-over voters that infiltrated our caucuses that night: “Well, he has to look out for his people, so that’s why he makes sure they’re in there.” Which is it?!

There was another group of younger people that had just re-registered Republican and were carrying Ron Paul signs (and surprisingly one had a Rick Santorum sticker), and sat in the front waiting for their chance to sway the GOP polls.

First, Gingrich’s representative read off her talking points sheet in a Sean Hannity crescendo. She finished in 2:39 and sat down in awkward silence.

Next, Ron Paul’s surrogate stood to read off of her talking points as well, apparently struggling to read her own handwriting. It was substantive material, but shockingly unfamiliar to her. The best moment of the Paul presentation was when she went off script and spoke about the troops and purpose of war.

Then it was my turn to make a splash. I had prepared myself with my notes and learned what I was asked to cover by the Perry campaign. Between my seat in the third row and my position in the front of the room, I decided to go my own route: I shot from the hip and spoke about leadership. It went over remarkably well, and I even got a golf-clap from the angry Paul supporter in the skin tight “LOVE” shirt when I spoke about the out of control government we allow to have a place in our lives. There was a tense moment when the one-speaker-per-candidate rule was overruled by tshirt guy, and I was challenged to back up Rick Perry's record in a quasi-debate, but for the most part the night went very well and I know my message was well received.

My precinct was in the city, and our results were as follows:
22% Gingrich 22% Paul 19% Perry 19% Santorum11% Bachmann7% Romney0% Huntsman
Needless to say, Perry had a much harder time in the farming counties than we had hoped, where ethanol is the local Friday Night Light drug of choice. As Riley and I arrived at the watch party, results began pouring in. Perry’s numbers stood at a hard-nosed and deflating ten percent like a stubborn mule until the night was over. No fanfare, no confetti; even the extensive h’orderves tasted less palatable as it was becoming quickly apparent that our candidate would not crack the top three, let alone win the Caucus.

In all honesty, winning it all – while certainly the goal of any self-respecting team – was not expected; a top three finish would have been a HUGE upset by the Perry campaign. There were many factors: ethanol interests working feverishly to get out the vote for conglomerates to protect their lifelines to federal politicking; the Family Leader organization holding its endorsement of Santorum until the last possible second; the Obama campaign flooding Iowa newspapers and magazines with ads the week leading up to the Caucus, coupled with grassroots emails encouraging Democrats to temporarily re-register as Republicans – they specifically named Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul as the alternates; Ron Paul’s campaign specifically directed volunteers to recruit independents and Democrats to support Paul. Perry had an uphill battle and he waged a good one.

When it came time for his interview with Megyn Kelly on Fox News at 9pm, he was optimistic and steady. We all watched from a few feet away as he spoke with conviction, telling her “I’m not going to change who I am to get a few more votes.” As he left the room for some back-room business, I was able to get a picture with the Governor and thank him for inspiring my own Wisconsin Governor, Scott Walker to do the right thing no matter what. He said, “He’s a good man, your welcome, son. Keep up the good fight!” With this he moved on down the line and made his way upstairs.

Between the somber watch party and the distraction of the cocktail bar, the 400+ supporters in the Sheraton were just a little unsure what was next. We knew the Governor was still around, and we knew he would speak at some point, but we spent most of the next two hours discussing what happened, why it happened, and what we could do about South Carolina.

I had Riley with me this entire time, and he was getting quite tired and rambunctious so I decided to take him to our hotel and come back. Right as I got back, after 11pm, I received a text from a campaign worker that Perry was back and I needed to get moving into the ballroom. As I entered, the mood was in contrast to the previous several hours; hundreds of people were smiling, gathering by the stage and the media was anxiously getting their cameras ready in front and back. Then the Governor came out onto the stage with his family.

His wife Anita, son Griffin, daughter-in-law Meredith and daughter Sydney surrounded him on the stage in casual clothes and smiles on their faces as Perry thanked his supporters for their efforts that day. He detailed his bus trip, the conversations he’d had, the 38 states that volunteers came from to invest into the Iowa Caucuses, and he read a letter he received from a young man who came from Kansas and lost a transmission along the way. The enthusiastic supporter detailed how he borrowed $2,000 to get it fixed and make it in time to work the door to door campaign. Then the Governor talked about the young veteran who had been present most of the weekend, having been injured in the line of duty in Iraq. Whenever Perry speaks about vets, he gets very emotional; it’s a Texan thing. It is real, no doubt about it.

As his speech wound down and the crowd began to remember the stressful day and disappointing opposition we had all faced that day in a crowded GOP field, he began to explain his heartfelt appreciation for us, and desire to return to Texas to rest before reengaging his campaign in South Carolina. "With the voters' decision tonight in Iowa, I've decided to return to Texas, assess the results of tonight's caucus, determine whether there is a path forward for myself in this race."

The gut bomb those words gave each of us took the breath out of everyone, and for just a second you could wave your hand in front of anyone’s face and probably not get a wink. Was he really quitting? His plan was for every state! Did his words just reflect the frustration of a man who’s NEVER lost a single election he’s ever run in? He still has plenty of money to move forward!

As he began to leave the stage, he was sure to reach out to each of the supporters there to help him that weekend. He gave many hugs, many handshakes, a few tears – missing this time were the high-fives and thumbs-up he’s so well-known for. I had to speak with him once more. I squeezed and waited, then realigned my position in the line and then found an opening to the left. An older woman standing there with tears in her eyes, shaking her head was not appearing ready to move in on the governor so I seized the moment and politely asked her “excuse me”, and moved in front of her to the crowd line. As Governor Perry came closer to me, I knew exactly what he was feeling, but figured he could use a reminder of what kind of man we knew him to be. I remembered his often re-quoted “Bring it on! Live free or die! Victory or death!” line, and knew this was simply a man humbled by a machine working against him, because it knew he was the only one capable of changing that machine into something we, the people could actually control again.

The security detail grew stiffer and began asking people to stop asking for autographs and pictures. I moved to the very end of the line before the doorway and as the Governor came up to me, he reached out, grabbed my hand and looked me in the eye. I pulled him in toward me and said, “Ronald Reagan never quit; you sure as hell better not.” And he said, “okay son,” and turned to leave the room.

I don’t know if what I said made a hill-of-beans difference, and I know the Governor spent the night talking with his organization in South Carolina and onsite in Iowa about his “path forward.” What I do know is that an hour later, his son Griffin said “He’s not quitting, absolutely not.” By 10:14 the next morning, the Governor (who controls his own Twitter account and does not have a staffer do it for him) tweeted a picture of him on his morning run and said, “The next leg of the marathon is the Palmetto State… here we come, South Carolina!!!”

Facebook and Twitter exploded within minutes and all of Rick Perry’s nationwide family of support unified behind him once again. The only question likely dogging the Governor was the money to move forward in actual primary states where massive amounts of money are needed to make an impression and "Perry" forward. In fine form, every-day people rose to the occasion. The donation referral link I’ve been assigned at receives notice of one or two donations per week; within 24 hours after his encouraging tweet, I had received notification of 15 new donors. This is a Governor who has no quit in him, and his supporters reflect the leader they follow. We’re not quitting either. South Carolina is calling, and we’re answering it.

“Do not gloat over me, my enemy. Though I have fallen, I will rise.”

See you again. Soon...


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