Freshman Sen. Joni Ernst's is holding her first first "Roast and Ride" event Saturday, but it's already shaping up as much more than bikes and barbeque for the seven GOP presidential candidates and media horde following them to her rural Iowa hometown.
The festival-style gathering is attracting Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Perry, all to speak in a gathering in Boone, located 45 minutes outside of Des Moines in a major event as the state GOP straw poll nears in August, reports Politico
The event is building on the advertising that helped Ernst win her victory, including one that talked about castrating hogs
while she was growing up, and another in which she rode a Harley-Davidson
motorcycle to a gun range.
On Saturday, the candidates will have the opportunity to ride in a 38-mile motorcycle ride with Ernst, an invitation that just one, Walker, has accepted. After, the candidates will each get eight minutes on stage at the Boone pork roast.
"I doubt the candidates will win any converts during their eight allotted minutes onstage — all of the activity is going to take place off stage, off the bikes, actually interacting with and talking to Iowans," Matt Strawn, a former Iowa GOP chairman who worked closely with Ernst during her 2014 Senate run, told Politico.
"What I'm watching for are, which candidates understand this is meant to be a fun, relaxing event designed for them to interact with Iowans? Most of the large events in the state have been forums in ballroom theater settings, not an opportunity to spend a lot of time personally interacting," Strawn said.
The candidates will also have tents and chairs and can use their space as they wish to push their campaigns. The event also features down-home games like horseshoes or cornhole, music by the Des Moines band The Nadas, and plenty of home-grown pork. The event is at the grounds of the Central Iowa Expo, where the straw poll is set.
Ernst's party will also give her some more national spotlight while reuniting her with many of the current presidential field, who supported her race in hopes of gaining vital support in Iowa.
She does not plan to endorse any particular candidate, reports Politico, but instead plans to serve as a link between Iowa's voters and the presidential hopefuls.
Her hog roast is a reminder of the annual steak fry held by longtime Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, whose seat Ernst now holds. Harkin's annual event was a must for Democratic presidential candidates and other key party figures.
"The Steak Fry was barely a hamburger fry when it started," said Doug Gross, a longtime Iowa operative who worked for such candidates as Mitt Romney, George W. Bush, and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad. "These things take a substantial amount of time, to become the institution the Steak Fry was. The question will be what Joni does with it. Does she do it to promote herself or promote the party?"
Several other top Iowa officials are expected to make an appearance, including Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, who is a personal friend of Ernst’s.
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