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#TBT The Lincoln Dinner

Posted: December 17, 2015 | By: Ryan Tunink Tagged: From the Campaign Trail

IMG_3974 (1)Walking into the Iowa Events Center, I was admittedly apprehensive. I had never attended the Republican Party of Iowa’s Lincoln Dinner before and was unsure of exactly what it entailed. All I knew was that it would be massive. Soon after walking in, I was greeted by an Abraham Lincoln. The impersonator, a veteran of 25 years who discovered his gift while returning home from a tour, epitomized the Lincoln Dinner: a mix between a carnival and a black-tie dinner, showing the full array of the Republicans that call Iowa home.

The dinner, with a minimum cost of $100 a seat, drew over 1300 guests to hear 11 different presidential hopefuls. With speakers such as Gov. Scott Walker, Sen. Rand Paul, Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. Rick Santorum, and Donald Trump, every demographic of the party was represented. All 11 candidates got a chance to speak, usually speaking to similar points regarding the Islamic State, Iran, the Obama Administration, economic issues, and a general attack on Hillary Clinton. However, not all of the speakers stuck to the script, such as Lindsey Graham turning the first half of his speech into something resembling a roast, making jokes at Sen. Chuck Grassley’s and his own expense. In addition, Carly Fiorina was extremely well-received, apparently striking a chord with the belief that a woman is just as capable as a man to be president.

Despite the massive draw of seeing so many presidential hopefuls speak, the dinner turned out to be much more than a series of speeches. After everyone got a chance to speak, the event opened up to let the guests move around various “hospitality rooms,” essentially just rooms rented out on the floor below the dinner where most of the candidates stayed to speak with guests. In addition, most candidates provided open bars, ice cream and other desserts to draw in the crowd. All of the candidates were extremely open to the public, taking pictures and answering questions for anyone who simply walked up to them.

The whole floor was constantly in flux, with 1000 people rushing around, desperately trying to take selfies with the candidates, or get Scott Walker to serve them ice cream. The constant whirlwind was somewhat overwhelming with volunteers from the campaigns trying to get your attention to join the campaign, dozens of people trying to serve you food and drinks, and the adrenaline of just shaking hands with Donald Trump, not to mention the fact that Abe Lincoln was making his rounds. It also made the huge diversity in the room apparent, with everyone from teens to the elderly present and passively trying to get ahead of you in line for the next picture. The four-hour event was, in an odd way, exactly what you would expect during caucus season.

A lot has changed since the Lincoln Dinner. Trump was poorly received, yet he is leading most polls now. Fiorina and Carson have both had their moments in the sun, despite being virtual no-names with mixed receptions at the dinner. Walker, who’s ice cream serving hospitality room brought the largest crowd, has already dropped out, as has Rick Perry. The whole national discourse has even changed. While there is still a focus on national security, immigration was hardly touched at the dinner, and refugees didn’t even cross anyone’s mind. Not to mention the fact that Trump was more of a celebrity than a politician at the dinner. Just goes to show a lot can still change before caucus night.

IMG_1214Tunink is a sophomore political science and law, politics, and society major from Waukee, Iowa. He enjoys running on the Drake cross country team and binging on Netflix. Follow him on Twitter.