While Rick Santorum, Michelle Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty and Herman Cain were in Manchester, New Hampshire, sharing the national stage from St. Anselm College and debating on CNN, another candidate, who had polled as high as some of those on that stage, was in a much less glamorous location.
Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson was in Council Bluffs, Iowa. And so was I.
Unlike most campaign events you go to, where you can be on the opposite end of the room and know the moment the big candidate walks in the door by just the feeling in the air, I'm not quite sure how long Johnson had been in the room before I realized it. He stood there in the back and exchanged short pleasantries with a few of the people who recognized him as they walked through the doorway into the Elk's Lodge.
His was one of the more strange stump speeches I've seen. I will say though, there is a charm to what seems like a somewhat regular guy, not the average spit-and-polish of someone who's been speaking for a living for years, getting up in front of people and making a Mr. Smith goes to Washington-esque run for the presidency.
Among other fringe ideas, Mr. Johnson supports getting rid of both the personal and corporate income taxes and replacing it with a national sales tax and abolishing the Department of Education. This along with more mainstream ideas like not being the world's police, means testing Social Security and a commonsensical guest worker program (although this last part wasn't something the crowd was particularly happy with). He also flew his libertarian flag by spending a few minutes on the legalization of marijuana. This also did not get him any applause.
He book-ended his comments by talking about being excluded from the CNN debates that came on a bit after he spoke:
After listening to a man talk about the abolition of the Department of Education for a few minutes, I walked outside to snap some pics of the bus. The candidate was outside, talking to a reporter from an agricultural publication, who was grilling him a bit on his support for slashing farm subsidies.
Mort, a colorful guy who I've seen at every single noteworthy political event in the Council Bluffs area in the last five years, was there ranting and raving about how the federal government needs to get a roommate so it can cut the budget. Chuckling about that, I snapped a few pictures, then went inside to have some pizza, and watch the debate with the Tea Party folks.
If you take the crowd's reaction as any indicator, Michelle Bachmann did very well. She threw out a bunch of red meat they liked, as did others, but the reactions to the rest didn't stick out.
Most of the people there did not think that the debate really got to what the Tea Party wants to hear. This wasn't surprising, given that some of the biggest applause lines of the speakers at the event came after fringe ideas like dissolving the Department of Education, getting rid of the Environmental Protection Agency and replacing our currency with gold. Perhaps they'll get more of what they want out of the event specifically geared towards them, when CNN hosts a debate with the Tea Party Express later this year.
Solomon Kleinsmith is a nonprofit worker, serial social entrepreneur and strident centrist independent blogger from Omaha, Nebraska. His website, Rise of the Center, is the fastest growing blog targeting centrist independents and moderates.