DUBUQUE, Iowa – Many presidential campaigns in Iowa have to rely on paid “advance” teams to scrounge up locations for events and get local people revved up to attend. Not so Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and team. The governor’s support in Iowa is so strong that locals with political skills are providing superb venues and promotions for his visits.
Case in point: Sunday’s event in Dubuque. Matt Giese, who handles public outreach for his family’s 90-year-old business, Giese Manufacturing, had approached Walker’s people long before he was even a candidate.
Giese senses he has picked a winner in Walker, who he thinks will support small businesses like his.
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“I reached out to the Walker campaign back in March when Scott was in town for an event and said we’d love to host him,” said Giese. “We’ve had a couple of events for different candidates in the past. I was a huge supporter of Romney and worked very hard for him. I plan to do the same for Walker.”
Giese senses he has picked a winner in Walker, who he thinks will support small businesses like his, cut taxes and reform the government. Giese was able to enlist employees to help on a hot Sunday evening to turn his company’s cavernous facility into an instant campaign venue. Walker’s well-organized volunteers and staff did the rest — and their “outreach” efforts left not a single voter behind.
When word broke that Walker’s “Ninety-Nine” cavalcade (named after his vow to visit all of Iowa’s 99 counties) was running a half-hour late from Plainfield, his former Iowa hometown, local staffers fetched pizzas to placate the crowd. They even ran slices across the street to the two lonely pro-union protesters with a particular animus against Walker.
Protester Terry Stewart of Dubuque is a retired fireman. “As a public employee, I saw what Scott Walker did to public employees in Wisconsin. I also saw what he did recently to the colleges in Wisconsin with a quarter-billion fund cut. Sometimes I wonder if it’s because he’s a college drop-out.”
Fellow protester Gerald Podraza of Apple River, Illinois, a retired educator, added (against significant evidence) that he thinks Walker “has essentially eviscerated the economy of Wisconsin.”
The two middle-aged men were holding up a colorful homemade vinyl sign between two two-by-fours, one that read: “Trickle Down” with an arrow pointed downward toward the other, which read “Collective Bargaining.” They said they were grateful for the pizza — but they ate it one-handed, smiling, without dropping their signs.
Yet for a governor who just a few years ago was Public Enemy No. 1 for many labor union workers, it was mild opposition indeed — especially when compared with the enthusiastic crowd within Geise’s facility.
When Walker did arrive, his staff missed not a single detail: A film crew in tow made sure his route put him right in front of a Patton-sized American flag as a backdrop.
Fathers had sons on their shoulders to get a better look, and the audience of several hundred was a mixture of seasoned citizens and younger. They had patiently waited, some for hours. Why?
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Les Feldmann, a John Deere retiree from Rickardsville, just north of Dubuque, answered that question adamantly.
“I like what he says about Common Core. I’ve been fighting against it for four years and I think it’s a bad thing for our country,” Feldman said. “That was my main issue. Scott Walker is my man.”
“I like hooking my cars to a train that wins,” Dan Zumbach said. “Governor Walker is genuine, hard-working, he gets things done, and he’s someone I can trust.”
Walker, who spent much of his childhood in Iowa and who has led almost every poll here for months, expertly mixed local Iowa references in with his national campaign themes. He made the most national news Sunday with a pledge to “terminate the Iran [nuclear] deal on day one” of his presidency — but he won appreciative chuckles when he said that his prior experience in Dubuque was when his family’s car broke down there once. Later, taking no audience questions, he spent more time talking one-on-one with people and taking photos than he had taken in his formal speech. His goal, and obvious accomplishment: personal connections.
His dominance in the state responsible for hosting the GOP’s first nominating contest is evident in polling as well. A new poll released Monday by Monmouth University found Walker was the preferred choice among 22 percent of likely caucus-goers, a full 9 points ahead of second place Donald Trump. Trump garnered 13 percent in the poll.
In the past several weeks, plenty of other GOP candidates have visited Dubuque, most impressing the locals but not necessarily “closing the deal” to earn dedicated support. Walker was different: Every single person queried was convinced he was their man.
They ranged from the unemployed Sue Tome — who arrived undecided among “five or six of the Republicans” but left determined to caucus for Walker — to Delaware County state Rep. Dan Zumbach, a farmer, who officially endorsed the Wisconsonite.
“I like hooking my cars to a train that wins,” Zumbach said. “Governor Walker is genuine, hard-working, he gets things done, and he’s someone I can trust. I look at a lot of the other candidates and they would make great vice presidents or cabinet members, but I will be caucusing for Governor Walker.”
Walker, for his part, seemed delighted with the end of his first Iowa tour as an official candidate. Asked by LifeZette if his car would be breaking down again in Dubuque, he laughed, and again worked in a local reference that the Iowa media appreciated: “I hope not! I think the Winnebago is in good shape. … [I’ll just] take the old 151 (the highway that crosses the Mississippi River from Iowa to Wisconsin) back to do some laundry at home.”
Judging from how Iowans responded to him, there might have been plenty of volunteers even to do his laundry, had he asked.