Urbandale, Iowa — Happy caucus night, and greetings from Polk County, where I’m at the caucus site for the 9th precinct in Urbandale.
Polk County, which includes Des Moines and the surrounding suburbs, was Romney territory in 2012: He won 28.5 percent of caucusgoers here. Rick Santorum took 22.5 percent, and Ron Paul took 21.7 percent. In 2008, the county went for Mike Huckabee who took 36 percent to Romney’s 23 percent.
Rubio is set to appear here shortly to make a closing argument to these Republican caucusgoers. It’s a logical choice: Romney outperformed his results statewide and in the county overall in this particular precinct in 2012, taking 43 percent. And as CBS’s Sean Gallitz points out, Rubio is clearly following Romney’s footsteps: his stops across Iowa in the final days have overwhelmingly been in counties where Romney won in 2012.
6:59 p.m. — So far, caucus organizers tell National Review, they’ve had between 50 and 60 people register as new voters.
7:20 p.m. — Maine Governor Paul LePage arrives to speak for Chris Christie. “He doesn’t need all the votes,” LePage told caucusgoers. “He just needs your vote.
LePage’s pitch: Christie is a “tried and tested” governor who’s ready to be “Commander in Chief on day one.”
“I believe after the last 8 years, we need somebody with experience to go to Washington. Somebody who’s been tried and tested. He has been a good g,overnor and he has earned the stripes to be elected president and Commander in Chief,” LePage said. He also took a swipe at two of the frontrunners in the race: Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
“There are three sitting senators in the history of our country that went from the Senate directly to the White House. Warren Harding’s one. Barack Obama’s number two. And the third one was John Kennedy, but we don’t know if he’d’ve succeed or not. But the other two are not known for being successful,” Le Page explained. The reason for that, he said, is that as president, “you’ve gotta make some decisions and you’ve gotta make it quick. You’ve gotta have some sound judgment behind it.”
Christie, LePage concluded, “he’s stellar.”
7:30 p.m. — Rubio arrives, with his wife and kids in tow. His closing pitch to caucusgoers: a shorter version of the stump speech he’s been delivering around the state all week. He told caucusgoers this was a crucial election that would determine whether future generations, too, would be able to say they lived in the greatest country ever. Republican caucusgoers he said, have to make the right choice because neither Hillary Clinton nor Bernie Sanders is an acceptable choice.
“If you caucus for me and I win, I will unite this movement, I will grow the conservative movement,” Rubio told caucus goers. “We will win this election, and we will turn this nation around.”
7:45 p.m. — Spend some time in Iowa and you’ll hear a lot about “Iowa nice.” The people in this state really are just lovely, on the whole. My first weekend in town, a woman I met covering a Christie event offered me the spare room in her house if I needed a place to stay. I’m not particularly nice or anything — most reporters have these stories.
Here at Urbandale 9, we just had a taste of Iowa nice. Caucusgoers had to select six alternate delegates, but eight people put their name forward. Three said they planned to back Cruz, three Rubio, one Carson, and one Trump. Just as we were about to have a vote to get rid of two of them, one Cruz supporter and one Rubio supporter stepped forward and offered to withdraw.
Iowans are nice.
7:50 p.m. — We’ve reached the point where precinct residents are speaking for candidates. Best speech so far, the introduction for Ben Carson, from a man who says the doctor is the smartest man in the room.
“When you think he’s stroking out, he’s thinking about 10,000 possibilities. Kind of like that guy on Limitless [a TV show] who’s taking the pill,” the man said, touting his candidate.
There was also a shoutout to Rubio: ”If Carson could speak like Marco he’d be at 80 percent. Maybe Marco could be his VP or his spokesman.”
7:55 p.m. — Two people had a bit of a tussle to speak for Ted Cruz, and in a concession, the first man got the full five minutes, while the other man also got a few seconds. The first man to speak criticized LePage for attacking first time senators, knocking Christie’s approval rating in New Jersey.
As for Cruz, the man said, “he did exactly what he told the people of Texas he would do. That when he went on the Senate floor, he opposed things he said he would oppose. He did things he said he was gonna do. That didn’t make him very popular … that made him very unpopular with the people who were in government today.”
In what I can only assume was an homage to his candidate, the first man to speak for Cruz ran out the clock, and then kept talking anyway.
8:01 p.m. — “Is there anyone here to speak for Jim Gilmore?”
And a hush fell over the crowd.
8:04 p.m. — Mike Huckabee, the 2008 winner of the caucuses, has not fared so well. But he still has some loyal supporters.
“He’s the same candidate that he was eight years ago…he’s consistent, he is a man of conviction,” the man introducing him explains. The man previously said he’d backed Huckabee before, too.
There was also an oblique dig at Ted Cruz, when the man echoed an attack that Huckabee has leveled at Cruz: “His conviction doesn’t change over time. And it doesn’t matter what the political winds are, it doesn’t matter what’s popular or what the polls say, Mike is gonna be who he is. He’s a very authentic man.”
8:09 p.m. — There’s no one here to speak for John Kasich, either.
8:11 p.m. — The woman speaking for Rick Santorum promises brevity: ”This will be the Gettysburg address compared to some of the other speeches.” (She does not deliver. Despite her promise, she does not speak fast).
“Do not let polls, pundits, or predictor models pressure you to surrender your number one preference when this race is just starting,” she urged voters.
8:16 p.m. — For a minute, it looks like there will be no one to speak for Donald Trump. Then a woman steps up.
“Looks like I’m in the minority. And if you had asked me six months ago why I was voting for somebody with a godawful haircut who seems to star in an everyday reality show,” she says, she wouldn’t have known.
“Like so many Americans in this room, quite honestly, I’m fed up and I do want to ‘Make America Great.’ And I believe that while Donald doesn’t have government experience, I believe that he’s a strong and astute business person … I think he’s a smart gentleman, and I think as the gentleman earlier tonight made comments about Ben Carson, I think Mr. Trump is smart enough to surround himself with a good corps of smart and astute business people and politicians that can in fact make America great again. So that’s why I’m supporting Donald Trump,” she explained.
8:45 p.m. — The results are in! There were 295 votes.
Cruz – 86
Rubio – 82
Trump – 57
Carson – 26
Christie – 10
Paul – 9
Bush – 7
Huckabee – 7
Santorum – 5
Kasich – 3
Fiorina – 2
Cora Mills (write in) – 1
Gilmore – 0
Total run-time: One hour, 45 minutes.
And that’s a wrap. Let’s do it again in four years.