‘Minnesota nice’ put to the test in Ames’ Fox News Republican Presidential Debate


Photo: Jordan Maurice/Iowa State Daily

Mitt Romney discusses his views on the important issues in the upcoming election at the 2011 Ames GOP Presidential Debate. He appeared on the video screen in Hilton Coliseum on Aug. 11.

Jessica Opoien

Ames residents have heard their share of the phrase, “Iowa nice” before, but tonight its Minnesota counterpart was put to the test in the Fox News Republican Debate.

Eight Republican presidential candidates faced off at C.Y. Stephens Auditorium on the ISU campus in Ames on Thursday night in a debate presented by Fox News, the Washington Examiner and the Iowa Republican Party. Candidates sought to set themselves apart in anticipation of Saturday’s Ames Straw Poll, which will be held at the Iowa State Center, primarily around Hilton Coliseum. While previous Republican debates have been exceedingly polite, the struggle to find a frontrunner for the party drew candidates’ claws out onstage Thursday evening.

No more Minnesota nice?

Moderator Chris Wallace decided it was time to test the level of “Minnesota nice” between the two candidates who hail from the state, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann.

“Is she unqualified, or is she just beating you in the polls?” Wallace asked Pawlenty of Bachmann.

The two sparred throughout the night, with Pawlenty questioning Bachmann’s experience and Bachmann likening Pawlenty to an Obama clone. Pawlenty made several earnest pleas to convince the moderators and audience that Bachmann’s answers were “illogical.”

The two agreed, though, that President Barack Obama’s days in office should be numbered. Obama’s campaign got its strongest start in Iowa, Bachmann pointed out, adding that Iowa can also bring his presidency to a close.

A strange night for Bachmann

Bachmann had her share of strange moments throughout the debate. Upon a return from a commercial break, she was the only candidate not present at her podium onstage.

Shortly after her return from the unexplained absence — which could have been something as simple as a miscommunicated bathroom break — Bachmann was asked if Sarah Palin, whose tour bus is Iowa-bound, is “stealing her thunder.” Bachmann insisted that Palin is her friend, but the question and its answer — along with the fact that no men were asked if the former Alaska governor was stealing their thunder — was reminiscent of the “three-way calling attack” scene in “Mean Girls.”

Bachmann was later questioned about comments she has made indicating that, due to her religious beliefs, she behaves in submission to her husband. Would she be submissive to her husband as President of the United States?

“Submission,” Bachmann explained, means “respect” in her marriage — after a long pause full of jeers at the question from the audience.

The underdog

“The national media doesn’t pay a lot of attention to us, but we pay attention to the people of Iowa,” said former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum in his closing statements. Santorum saw a fair amount of camera time tonight, and got into a heated exchange with Rep. Ron Paul about Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Santorum railed against Iran for the way it “tramples the rights of women, tramples the rights of gays, tramples the rights of people.” Granted, his defense of Iran’s gay population came with some hesitation. And later in the debate, he did not extend the same sympathy toward gay Americans.

Iowa’s Supreme Court justices “forced” gay marriage on the state’s people, Santorum said, but added that those justices were “defeated” — referring to the ousting of three justices in a 2010 judicial retention vote influenced by a campaign led by failed Iowa gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats. Vander Plaats has recently made headlines with a pledge drafted by The Family Leader, the conservative group he heads, denouncing homosexuality.

Other highlights

  • The takeaway from former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s talking points was that he has the answers Obama lacks — especially when it comes to repairing the U.S. economy.

    “Herman Cain and I are the two onstage who have actually worked in the real economy,” Romney said.

  • Reagan references were kept to a minimum. The first one appeared 11 minutes into the debate, from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. The second reference came with Gingrich’s next answer.
  • Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman used tonight’s debate to further distance himself from the “moderate” label he’s often been stuck with. At one point, he was asked if he is running on the wrong ticket. He did, however, maintain his support for civil unions — a bold move in the current GOP field.
  • Herman Cain, former chairman and CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, was given several opportunities to smooth over some of the gaffes he’s made throughout the race. He continued to express concerns with sharia law entering the United States, but clarified that he does not have a problem with Romney’s Mormonism. He could not say the same for the people of Atlanta, however, saying people in the south worry Mormanism may not relate to more mainstream religions.
  • Ron Paul, Congressman from Texas, gave several impassioned history lessons urging the United States to end its wars, to enthusiastic applause from the audience.

“Iowa nice” through it all

To close the debate, moderator Bret Baier thanked the people of Iowa, who “could not have been more hospitable.”

Friday, candidates will hold a variety of events including visits to the Iowa State Fair and tailgates on the ISU campus. All of this activity leads up to the Ames Straw Poll, the results of which will be announced Saturday evening.

The Iowa State Daily will have up-to-the-minute coverage of all Straw Poll weekend events as they unfold.