By Kiernan Majerus-Collins
WATERLOO, Iowa, U.S.A. — Two days before Iowa Republicans gather to caucus, hundreds of people crowded a small Waterloo restaurant to hear former House Speaker Newt Gingrich give his campaign pitch.
“We are in real trouble in this country,” said Gingrich, one of seven high profile Republicans vying for the party’s nomination to battle U.S. President Barack Obama, who is seeking a second term.
The Iowa Caucuses, which will be held throughout this Midwestern state on Tuesday, are the first time voters select a favorite. But their unusual structure, which demands that voters gather as a group to hear pitches from candidates or their representatives before casting ballots, differs vastly from a primary, where individual voters each cast a ballot at a polling place.
Iowa is important because it offers the first test of a candidate’s strength. Candidates who perform well here are taken more seriously as the race progresses, while those who compete and fail face an uphill battle if they remain in the race.
After the caucuses, voters in other states will make their picks until the party convention this summer, when a nominee is declared.
Gingrich said that his candidacy was different than those of other presidential aspirants because he was “the only candidate” who has twice reformed the Washington system, once in the ‘80s with former President Ronald Reagan and once with his Contract with America in the 1994 election.
And now Washington needs fixing again, said Gingrich. He said Congress needs to get its act together and stop “bickering.”
|Gingrich fans gathered at Waterloo, Iowa sports bar|
Gingrich looked confident despite trailing in the polls to Romney and Texas Congressman Ron Paul. He said 40 percent of all ads run this year have been attacks against him, and urged caucusgoers to reject the negative advertising and “punish” those responsible.
“As you know, I said from the very beginning we would run a positive campaign,” said Gingrich. Regarding a particular claim about his position on cap-and-trade by the campaign of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Gingrich said “Romney’s people know it’s false,” and that he was angry with the Romney campaign.
Gingrich spoke to a crowd of at least 250 people jammed into LJ’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill late Sunday afternoon.
He vowed to abolish “Obamacare,” the new national health care reform law, as well as the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, but promised to work with members of both parties to get things done.
“You have to think about the country more than the party,” he said, adding that he “negotiated endlessly” with Democratic President Bill Clinton when he served as the leader of the U.S. House of Representatives.
If elected President, Gingrich said, he might select John Bolton, a former United Nations ambassador, as secretary of state, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels as secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Steve Forbes as treasury secretary. He said he’d like an annual audit of the Federal Reserve and that he would work to change the United Nations.
“I’d be very aggressive about taking on the corruption in the U.N.,” said Gingrich, adding that he wouldn’t hesitate to look for an alternative body to bring democracies together.
LJ’s was packed with Iowans, some with their hearts set on Gingrich, others still making up their mind.
Cassandra McCurdy, 16, of Cedar Falls, Iowa, works as a hostess at the restaurant. She said a lot of people were there just to see Gingrich, the only candidate to visit LJ’s.
“I think it’s pretty cool,” said McCurdy, a junior at Cedar Falls High School.
Seventeen-year old Adam Salutric of Denver, Iowa said he hadn’t picked a favorite candidate yet.
“I like Ron Paul because he cuts the spending,” said Salutric, a senior at Denver High School who will be old enough to vote in the general election in November but won’t be at the caucus because of school commitments.
“I like the national defense that he talks about, with bringing home the soldiers and beefing up the border.”
He’s still undecided, however, and was planning on seeing Paul the next day at an event in Cedar Falls.
“Paul has to win Iowa to have a chance,” said Salutric. “I think it’s the most important caucus.”
Salutric has another reason for seeing the candidates. He stood in a long line of people waiting to speak individually with Gingrich and pose for pictures with the candidate and his wife.
But the teen said, “I don’t want a picture.” Instead, he collects signed baseballs, both from professional players and from politicians.
Salutric came away from the Gingrich event with a signed ball, which enlarges his 2012 GOP collection to two: Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed a ball for Salutric last year.
All photos by Kiernan Majerus-Collins for YouthJournalism.org.