Four Republican presidential candidates and an audience of more than 300 people crowded into the Clear Creek-Amana High School lobby for a Republican fundraising event Friday night.
The candidates -- U.S. Rep. Thad McCotter of Michigan, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty -- took turns giving speeches at a podium with a poster decorated by a poster of Ronald Reagan, ripping President Barack Obama and praising each other.
The room of the event was plastered with posters for the different candidates and county Republican organizations. Even Mitt Romney and non-yet-a-candidate Gov. Rick Perry had a presence at the event, with attendees in t-shirts, buttons and posters on display.
The candidates echoed many of the same themes during the evening: all arguing to reduce the size and power of government and repeal the Affordable Health Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare), while exhorting the virtues of American exceptionalism and personal freedoms.
McCotter kicked off the event, giving his personal history as a "simple country lawyer" before explaining that it is the responsibility of Republicans to reclaim America and move it in the right direction from its current economic morass caused by the "imploding welfare state."
“President Obama is nothing more than Jimmy Carter in a better suit,” McCotter quipped, to laughs from the audience.
Former senator Rick Santorum came next. During his speech he painted himself as a committed social conservative who had won tough races before against Democratic incumbents.
"I have won tough elections in tough states and in tough districts," Santorum said.
Santorum suggested that he hadn't been getting much attention from the "mainstream media" because the members of the media want President Barack Obama to win, and Santorum poses a threat to him.
Former speaker Newt Gingrich was up next. His main focus was on the economy as he laid out steps he said would create more jobs, such as restructuring the Environmental Protection Agency, lowering taxes, reducing regulations and repealing the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill.
"America only works when people are working," Gingrich said.
Tim Pawlenty wrapped up the speakers, once again emphasizing the need for the Republican candidate to have executive experience like he had as governor of Minnesota.
"Any bobblehead can stand up here and give you the Republican line," Pawlenty said. "
Pawlenty closed by making a pitch for voters to support him at the Straw Poll, telling the crowd that there would be Dairy Queen Blizzards, BBQ and music there.
Irene Chalmers-Neubauer, a retired college professor from Iowa City, said she was glad to see the candidates in person. She said that the Republican party's problem is they don't do a good enough job dispelling the misinformation that is spread by Democrats, and speaking to the candidates in person is a good way of people learning more information.
"It does help to be able to talk to them in person," Chalmers-Nuebauer said.
Matt Staab, a Republican bus driver also from Iowa City, said he appreciated the opportunity to see all of the candidates at once.
"I think they were all good," Staab said.
In his review of the night, he said he felt Pawlenty pandered a little too much to the crowd, Santorum was too much of a self salesman, Gingrich laid out several ideas and McCotter won him over with his quiet, uncandidate like speaking style.
Still, Staab said it is far too early in the game to declare a favorite, saying he's going to wait to see who is left in January before choosing.
"I just want to see who is going to still be around then," Staab said.