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Iowa Republicans don’t expect PUMA for GOP in 2012

Except for the few times she raised her hands to applaud, Sheila Reiland of Iowa City sat quietly — hands at her sides, feet flat on the floor, her back against a school lunch table. For more than an hour and a half she watched and listened as four men, all hoping to be president, and a handful of eastern Iowa Republican Party leaders took their turn at the microphone.

The scene was not so different than those that be found at any number of locations throughout Iowa during the lead-up to the state’s first-in-the-nation caucuses. Iowans want to hear, know and understand the people who want to move into the White House. As candidates are famous for saying, “Iowans want to kick the tires a bit” before selecting a candidate to support.

But while Reiland was obviously and openly engrossed in the event and rarely moved her eyes from the speakers, she also knew that she wouldn’t be directly supporting any of these potential nominees come caucus night. Her decision has already been made.

“My candidate isn’t here tonight,” she whispers as a local candidate is handed the microphone and begins to address the crowd. “I’m supporting Michele Bachmann.”

The decision, she relates, was difficult. There were several candidates she could have supported, but she ultimately couldn’t resist Bachmann‘s bravery, courage and integrity. As a nurse, she appreciates how Bachmann has gone to the mat against health care reforms. She likes how the Minnesota Republican sticks up for herself and for her beliefs.

But why sit so intently listening to people you know that you won’t support on caucus night?

“Honestly, I’ve chosen Bachmann, but I’d be happy with any of the candidates as the nominee,” she says. “I like them all and I think they could all do a good job as President.”

More importantly, she says many of the Republicans she’s spoken with feel similarly, and that she doesn’t anticipate a situation like the Democrats faced in 2008 when supporters of Hillary Clinton were reluctant to throw their support behind Barack Obama.

“I think part of that was the gender issue, the fact that Clinton ran as a woman. It was a key part of her campaign,” Reiland adds. “And although Bachmann is a woman, I didn’t choose her because of that — and I don’t see her running as a woman per say. I mean, obviously she is female, but she’s running as a conservative, not a woman.”

Image has not been found. URL: http://media.iowaindependent.com/jeff_kaufmann_300.jpgIowa Rep. Jeff Kaufmann pledged that House Republicans and Republicans throughout the state would rally behind the party’s eventual nominee. (Photo: William Dahlsten/Linn County GOP)

Party unity — or the belief that there won’t be a problem for Iowa Republicans, who are currently faceted amid a multitude of presidential campaigns to come together once a nominee is chosen — was a sentiment expressed by Iowa House Speaker Pro Tempore Jeff Kaufmann of Wilton when he took his turn at the microphone.

Noting that several of the Republican presidential hopefuls had visited the Iowa Capitol and reached out to state lawmakers to offer support, Kaufmann said, “Here’s my pledge — and I know [this] is the pledge of the Iowa House of Representatives and Republicans in the state: Which ever one of you is the chosen one, we will stand behind you. Period.”

Although in Iowa politics it is common knowledge that Democrats have historically had the most difficult time getting supporters to fall in line after heated battles — a situation some state leaders have semi-affectionately referred to as “herding cats” — the past few primaries and issue battles have taken their toll on Republicans as well. There is the well-documented friction between social and fiscal conservatives. There is also a new brand of GOP emerging, mostly a mix of tea party and Libertarian with a distinct social bent, that values bucking the system — even when the system is the long established party structure that has so often served as a common point of unity between the various interests that make up the Iowa GOP.

Taken in that context, Kaufmann’s pledge is likely one of the most important he’ll take as a member of House Leadership since he is essentially guaranteeing that, no matter who the nominee may be, that he will rally all GOP interest factions in Iowa behind that individual.

“There are hundreds of strong Republicans in this room right now, and we are standing in the heart of Johnson County, Iowa,” Kaufmann said, openly proud of the fact that even in the Iowa locale known as the “People’s Republic” GOP events are energized and being well-attended. “That doesn’t mean that we dislike our Democratic colleagues. That doesn’t mean that we aren’t going to get along with our Democratic colleagues. What that means is: Regardless of where we are in this state, we are going to stand up for our principles, and we are going to stand up for what we believe and say it to everyone.”

And, as party leaders like Sen. Sandy Greiner, of American Future Fund fame, and former House Speaker Chris Rants, now nearly a fixture in Texas, worked the room of voters, an Illinois woman posed in the entrance for pictures with presidential hopefuls Tim Pawlenty and Newt Gingrich.

“Shoot it from the neck up,” Holly White instructed the photographer while placing an arm over the front of her shirt that bore the imprint of Thaddeus McCotter‘s campaign. She drove about two hours from Galesburg, Ill. to hear the candidates speak and have an opportunity to meet with them one-on-one.

“I am leaning toward McCotter,” she told The Iowa Independent, “but I’m not going to be displeased with whomever the nominee might be.

“I can’t caucus because I’m not from Iowa, but I am close enough to take advantage of the access that Iowans have to the candidates. After meeting them for myself, I can tell you that I won’t be disappointed and that I’ll work for the person that is chosen.”

Inside, Don McConnel, a West Branch farmer that will soon be moving into Tiffin, agreed. He had sat in the back of the high school cafeteria listening as the candidates made their pitch, and although he’s leaning toward a certain candidate, his mind is not completely made up as to who he will ultimately support in the caucuses.

“I like much of what they are all saying,” McConnel said. “I’m looking for someone who will really curtail spending, and someone who has a record of doing it. I want to see a record of accomplishment — someone who has gotten things done in the past.”

On the sidewalk in front of Clear Creek Amana High School a Michigan man offered Rick Perry cowboy cards to those leaving the event on behalf of Americans for Perry. Jeff, who doesn’t give his last name, says that he came to Iowa on his own dime, has been living in a hotel and is really hoping to spur Iowans to support the Texan in the upcoming Ames Straw Poll and in the caucuses, if Perry ultimately decides to run. For this night, he’s willing to stand in on-again-off-again rain showers in hopes of garnering a few more Perry supporters.

“Obviously, this means a great deal to me,” Jeff said, tucking one of the cowboy cards into the hand of an event attendee on her way out. “I wouldn’t be here unless I thought that Rick Perry was the guy that this country needs.”

But what if Perry decides not to enter the race, or if he is not ultimately chosen as the GOP nominee?

“I’ll cross that bridge later,” Jeff said with a smile. “I can’t think about that right now — who the nominee will be. I think my job and the job of Iowans is to find the best person possible. If we do that job well, then everything else will fall in line. All of these people may not be united behind a candidate, but we are united behind a belief that this country can do better.”

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