Hundreds pack candidate events on caucus eve; Romney brushes off Occupy protesters

CLIVE, Iowa — Hundreds of people jam-packed candidate events in hotels, businesses and restaurants for a final glimpse of the 2012 Republican presidential hopefuls in the hours leading up to Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses.

At least 600 people filled Competitive Edge in Clive, an advertising specialty manufacturing company that makes signs, for a late-night, caucus-eve rally with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

South Dakota U.S. Sen. John Thune was there, along with Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Matt Strawn, former Iowa Gov. Robert Ray and several state lawmakers. Media from Korea, Italy and Spain came to see the spectacle, as did a couple from Texas and a class of 46 high school students and 10 teachers from North Bend, Ohio.

“Clive event biggest pre-#iacaucus single candidate ever been to,” Iowa Senate Republican spokesman Don McDowell said on Twitter. “Had…dare I say it…a general election feel to it!”

The interest and enthusiasm on caucus eve could bode well for turnout at Tuesday night’s 1,774 precinct caucuses. Republicans expect turnout to be higher than in the 2008 Iowa Republican caucuses, which set a record with more than 118,000 participants.

Four polls released in the past week showed that Romney, who has only spent about 16 days in Iowa this caucus cycle, is the front-runner favored to win Iowa and give him momentum going into the primaries for New Hampshire on Jan. 10, South Carolina on Jan. 21 and Florida on Jan. 31.

In the final day before the caucuses, Romney stuck to his playbook of focusing on the economy, saying that he’d get rid of regulations that kill American jobs.

A handful of protesters connected with the Occupy Wall Street movement tried to disrupt the event by shouting “Mic check!” and calling on Romney to stop the war on the poor. But supporters drowned them out by chanting, “Mitt! Mitt! Mitt!”

Romney took the disruption in stride. He thanked his supporters and laughed.

“Isn’t it great to live in a country where people can express their views and dissatisfaction?” Romney asked. “Isn’t it great country? I love it. Make it loud and clear. And I’ll tell you one thing, when President Obama is here, I hope we’re in the audience making the same sounds about his policies. Let’s make sure we hear our voice loud and clear.”

Three people were arrested at Romney’s event Monday night. Twelve others were arrested earlier in the day at the Democratic National Committee’s “war room,” according to David Goodner, one of the Occupy organizers in Iowa. He said there have been 62 arrests in the past seven days as part of the group’s efforts to “Occupy Iowa Caucuses.” However, the group has said it will not disrupt Tuesday night’s precinct caucuses.

Close on Romney’s heels to finish in the top three at the Iowa caucuses are Texas U.S. Rep. Ron Paul and former Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, whose last-minute surge has propelled him from the back of the pack to an anticipated top-three finish.

At a much smaller venue Monday evening, dozens of people squeezed body-to-body at the Pizza Ranch restaurant in Altoona to see Santorum, Iowa’s most frequent visitor who has spent about 100 days campaigning here.

Santorum — who has openly acknowledged that he’s run his campaign on a shoestring — argued to Iowans that he’s electable. He said he’s won elections in the swing state of Pennsylvania and has spent lots of time in New Hampshire and South Carolina, as well as in Iowa.

But Santorum also said the effects of his last-minute surge won’t show up in campaign finance reports due later this month, which will cover donations made to his campaign through Dec. 31.

“Money isn’t going to win this election. If that was the case, I’d be below every other candidate and I wouldn’t even be close,” Santorum said. “When we report our financial picture, it’s going to be embarrassing except in the last four, five days, we’ve raised more money than we have in the last three or four months. We’ve done very, very well and we hope to do a lot better after (Tuesday) night.”

Until Sunday, Norman and Janet Gustafson, both 71 of Pleasant Hill, were undecided about whom to support for the Republican nomination for president. They said they were really impressed by former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain before he suspended his campaign. They liked former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and even considered Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

“We’ve been everywhere,” Janet Gustafson said.

But on New Year’s Day, the couple decided to vote for Santorum because they said he’s both a social and fiscal conservative.

“He’s not a man with a lot of money, so he does it kind of the Iowa way,” Norman Gustafson said. “We’ve had enough money influence in Washington, the way that it is. So if he can come up this way and not be owned, that’s a positive.”

Paul, who is known for his loyal followers and often has generated large crowds among youth at Iowa’s college campuses, was scheduled to speak Tuesday morning at Valley High School in West Des Moines for a “Rock the Caucus” assembly.

The Texas congressman’s “whistle stop” tour across the state Monday attracted more than 700 people in Des Moines, 350 in Davenport, 300 in both Cedar Rapids and Cedar Falls and 200 in Mason City, according to his campaign.
Editor’s note: Lynn Campbell writes for, part of the Franklin Center statehouse news bureaus and “Watchdog” groups. For more complete coverage of the Iowa caucus tonight and into tomorrow, including video reports and photo slide shows, go here. Caucus results will be available here and here. CapitolBeatOK is also affiliated with the Franklin Center.