I've had the pleasure of spending the past four days in Western Iowa, where the Republican candidates for president conducted their final 2011 debate last night. During my travels, I've stopped in at local eateries, attended town hall meetings, and enjoyed an adult beverage or two at popular watering holes with local voters -- the vast majority of whom told me they're planning to vote for someone other than President Obama next year. A few recurring themes I've noticed along the way: (1) Most of the Iowans who were kind enough to chat with me are ambivalent and conflicted about the Republican field. They're desperate to beat Obama in 2012, so they want to pick a winner, but they also believe the party should not -- and doesn't need to -- compromise its core conservative identity to accomplish that goal. (2) They are extraordinarily proud of their state and its unique role in shaping American politics. Several folks regaled me with stories about when candidate so-and-so spent an hour at such-and-so church chatting with parishioners, which ended up giving him a boost in the local caucus held at their neighbor's barn. (3) Iowa Republicans are deeply disenchanted with the media. Roughly half of the people I spoke with raised the issue of media bias and aloofness, totally unsolicited. They were friendly about it, but they were obviously making it a point to let me know what they think of a lot of people who are in my line of work. (4) There are plenty of Townhall readers in Iowa! Here are a few quotes from various voters that I jotted down during my travels, reproduced at random:
On Rick Perry: "He's authentic and honest. He doesn't give soundbytes like Romney, and he doesn't give 20 minute dissertations like Newt. He's also not ashamed to say the name of Jesus Christ. He lives his faith." / "He's a governor and his jobs record is what we need. I hope he can express himself a little better in the future."
On Ron Paul: "I like that he's listening to those of us who want to see the Constitution at the center of everything we do as a country, the way it was intended to be." / "His foreign affairs are a problem for me."
On President Obama: "I will not vote for that man under any circumstance. Ever."
On Mitt Romney: "He's my last choice, ahead of Obama. He's just too liberal. Anyone who can get elected in Massachusetts is too liberal, no matter what they say now." / "I liked him last time, but we have more conservatives in the race this time. He might be my second choice." / "I like what he's done turning around the Olympics and businesses. What has Obama ever done?"
On Michele Bachmann: "My husband and I really like her, but just like Rick Santorum, she's never governed, or run anything. That might affect my vote."
On the topsy-turvy primary: "The word I'd use is 'confusing.' You think you like someone, and then they're just out."
On Herman Cain: "The media did that to him. He's a straight shooter, and he would have walloped Obama in debates, but Obama's people and the media took him down, and for what? Where's the evidence?"
On Democrats' 2012 strategy: "We're going to see the race card like never before. Everything critical of Obama is going to be racist. I hate that."
On Newt: "I don't think this Newt stuff will go the whole way. I personally like Newt, but he can't get elected. Sure, he's a powerhouse and balanced the budget, but there's all that other stuff. He's risky." / "Three wives?" / "Newt is the most electable because he's smart and he understands how to give it back to the media."
On the field: "There are too many left-of-center guys in there. Isn't this the Republican Party?"
On the many GOP debates: "The media is making fun of our debates, but they've been helpful. They've brought out weaknesses and good points about each candidate. The process is important."
I'll leave you with a few scenes from a Rick Perry event I attended on Wednesday. It took place at the Bayliss Park Hall, just down the block from Rep. Steve King's district office in downtown Council Bluffs. Roughly 75-100 voters turned out to hear Governor Perry and his honored guest, an injured Marine who served in Iraq, speak about their vision for the country: