Two Texas White House hopefuls wowed Iowa voters this past weekend, but Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulWhat the 'Bernie Sanders wing of the GOP' can teach Congress GOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election How low is the bar for presidential candidates, anyway? MORE (R-Ky.) and the state’s past two winners might have seen their star fade.
Both Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzThe Trail 2016: An important lesson in geography Webb: The race to 270 Potential Cruz challenger: 'Don't close off your options' MORE (R-Texas) did themselves the most favors over the past few days, according to a number of Hawkeye State Republicans.
With the 2014 Iowa State Fair and all its surrounding events winding down, here’s a quick look at who saw their stock rise and fall during the unofficial kickoff to the 2016 caucuses.
Perry gave the most electrifying speech of the weekend to a big crowd of social conservative activists in the state.
“It was the best I've ever heard Perry, I thought he's raised his game substantially,” said Bob Vander Plaats, a top conservative activist in the state and the head of The Family Leader, the social conservative group that hosted the event.
Perry has been working hard to redeem himself after a gaffe-filled 2012 bid. He’s spent more time in Iowa than nearly anyone else — he’ll be at the Iowa State Fair on Tuesday as well — and the legwork seems to be paying off. The Texas governor also has been energized on the campaign trail, having recovered from major back issues that dogged him four years ago, and is capitalizing on the ongoing influx of young refugees from Central America to pound the Obama administration on border security.
“Rick Perry is definitely on the upswing. He learned an awful lot of lessons in his last race, and he's kind of embraced what Iowa is all about,” said Craig Robinson, a former state GOP political director who runs The Iowa Republican.
“Perry really helped himself,” said Steve Deace, a popular Des Moines-based conservative radio host. “Now I think people can see there is an alpha male there they didn't see the last time. He was very good and extremely likable.”
Perry delivered the line that, by most estimates, got the loudest applause of the weekend, when he scolded Obama about the border.
“The message to the president of the United States is clear,” Perry said. “If you will not secure the border of our country, then the State of Texas will.”
Perry’s Texas colleague was treated as Republican royalty everywhere he went in a week where a half-dozen probable presidential candidates raced to the state.
“Cruz knocked it out of the park,” said Vander Plaats.
The freshman senator delivered a red-meat laden speech to a conference of nearly 2,000 social conservative activists hosted by The Family Leader, hammering President Obama on a variety of issues. He also held a meeting with dozens of top Iowa activists, many of whom came away impressed.
JINDAL: UP SLIGHTLY
Jindal also impressed some, though others say he doesn’t have the charisma of some of his would-be competitors.
“He's dramatically better now than he was during that State of the Union response a few years ago,” said Deace.
Paul skipped the Family Leader event, but a multi-day trip earlier in the week drew negative headlines, and activists say they were left with more questions than answers about his views on a number of issues.
He spent much of his week trying to explain his view on Israeli foreign aid, at first claiming he’d never supported cutting it — which he has, repeatedly — before walking back those remarks.
He also faced some tough questions about his views of gay marriage and delivered some late-night TV fodder, when he rapidly exited a lunch, still chewing, when a “Dreamer” immigration activist confronted Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa).
“People are trying to read, who is Rand Paul right now? He's trying to thread a lot of needles from the liberty conservatives to the social conservatives to growing the base,” said Vander Plaats. “ He's giving a lot of people a cause for pause.”
“Rand Paul really did have a disastrous week in the state. Iowans were watching and not impressed in terms of how he handled the issues that were a part of his trip. People were left thinking he might not be ready for primetime,” said Robinson.
HUCKABEE AND SANTORUM: DOWN
Huckabee and Santorum also didn’t do much to win over new supporters.
Vander Plaats said Perry has done what Huckabee and Santorum haven’t yet been able to: find new room to grow past a base of social conservatives. The ongoing border crisis has given Perry a new platform and new relevance as the governor of a border state.
“With Perry, even though he lost last time, the immigration issue has hit the fore now, and he's been winning the media battle on that, that's really helped him and worked in his favor,” he said. “Santorum and Huckabee have to find that niche.”