Bachmann focuses on waffles, not issues in Iowa City

BY IAN STEWART | JULY 05, 2011 7:20 AM

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A stop in Iowa City this past weekend kicked off Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann’s statewide campaign tour ahead of the GOP Straw Poll in August. But while other candidates have honed in on specific issues during stops in Iowa, she remained mostly silent on policy over the weekend, focusing instead on her connection to the state.

For example, Bachmann has notably not stepped into a debate on U.S. ethanol subsidies — which pump billions of federal dollars into the Iowa economy annually — while many of the other candidates in the 2012 pack have taken sides.

Any mention of subsidies was missing both from Bachmann’s campaign launch last week in Waterloo and during stops in Iowa City and Des Moines over the weekend.

Talk of ethanol subsidies has heated up since the U.S. Senate approved a measure that would end most of those handouts. Calling for an end to those programs has long been considered a damning position for candidates in Iowa; however, caucus contenders Rick Santorum and Tim Pawlenty have both called for curbs on federal ethanol support. Yet others, such as Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, have voiced their support for the subsidies.

Bachmann did touch on a few issues in front of the state Capitol on Sunday, however, speaking strongly against President Obama on raising the debt ceiling and changing Israel’s borders. But her press secretary and spokeswoman, Alice Stewart, said the goal of the trip was to make herself known.

“First and foremost, it’s important for her to get to all areas of the state,” Stewart said. “The priority now is to meet as many people as she can … to shake many hands.”

Bachmann didn’t address the crowd of about 80 gathered in Iowa City last week but — husband and 16-year-old daughter in tow — she worked every corner of the room, signing autographs and posing for pictures.

“I think Iowa’s very important, so we want to do very well here,” Bachmann said. “We’re going to be working toward the caucuses in August and on to January and February and beyond.”

University of Iowa Associate Professor of political science Cary Covington, these meet-and-greet events are an integral part of a presidential campaign.

“As a matter of visuals, being seen out and amongst the people is a good image to generate for a candidate like her who is constantly emphasizing her roots in the people,” he said.

After working her way through the restaurant, Bachmann slid into a booth, sharing a waffle and a cup of coffee with a few locals. Erin Connolly, who sat with her brother and two nephews across from the candidate, said they talked about the growing epidemic of chemical dependency.

“She was lovely and personable,” Connolly said. “It’s hard not to like a fellow Iowan.”

Bachmann, who often mentions that she was born in Waterloo, was quick to defend the importance of her home state.

“The values and the opinions that people have in Iowa count,” Bachmann said. “It’s important to come and listen to what people have to say here in Iowa and take that message back to Washington, D.C.”

What she hears on the ground isn’t only valuable in directing policy, Covington said, it can also help during the campaign.

“These are the kind of events where people talk to her about particular things that get woven into her speeches when she wants to talk about specific policy,” he said. “This is how she gets little vignettes and stories.”

Paula Lynch arrived early to get a chance at meeting Bachmann. Lynch, like many of those at the event, said the economy was at the top of her list of concerns. Though she is still “collecting ideas” about who to vote for, she said many of the candidate’s values resonated with her.

“I like Bachmann’s spark,” Lynch said, describing her ideal candidate.“I want honesty, integrity, and do what you say.”

Though only a handful of people who rubbed elbows with Bachmann were ready to fully commit to voting for her, Covington said even a small group of supporters can be valuable to a campaign.

“Those people go off and become that candidate’s best advocates to their friends,” he said. “In a small state like Iowa, that can be a significant bonus.”

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