IDA GROVE, Iowa | I follow a full moon to Ida Grove's Skate Palace on Monday night, seeking a plate of political "red meat" as five Republicans convene at a table set in red, white and blue.
Sam Clovis, of Sioux City, skates away with a straw poll title, picking up 57 votes of 94 cast.
Clovis joins four candidates this evening, taking questions for an hour. Iowa GOP voters on June 3 will select a challenger to meet U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Waterloo, in the race to replace U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who is retiring.
"Red meat," the term for political fare bipartisan crowds devour, fills the Skate Palace air.
"We have to get Harkin and the mess he made and clean it up," says Rachel Raak Law, the Ida County Republican chairwoman who serves as emcee.
"Please shut off your cell phones," advises Cody Hoefert, the Lyon County Republican Party chairman, who asks questions pulled from a crowd of 115 people. Phones interrupt a candidate's train of thought.
"Plus, we don't want Braley listening in," Hoefert says.
Candidates Clovis, Joni Ernst, Scott Schaben, Matt Whitaker and David Young each state their case as Braley's challenger, Harkin's replacement and President Barack Obama's headache.
They tout their military experience (Clovis, Ernst and Schaben), their private enterprise success (Clovis, Schaben and Whitaker), their inside knowledge of government (Ernst, Whitaker and Young) and their frustration with what's happening in Washington (all of the above).
"Obamacare is the worst bill passed in the history of our country," Whitaker says.
The crowd applauds politely at just about everything, save for an opening remark by Schaben concerning gay marriage. Republicans, he notes, must respect recent Supreme Court decisions that clear the way for more same-sex marriages.
"Red meat" this ain't. Not in a Northwest Iowa Republican primary forum.
Schaben goes on to say the GOP must focus on three issues: Reducing the debt, supporting the Second Amendment, and taking on the Affordable Care Act. (I think it's the only time a candidate refers to Obamacare as the Affordable Care Act.)
I hear a solitary clap following Schaben's remarks. No cheering. I'm not the only one who notices. Sheryl Ashley, of Correctionville, Iowa, meets me after the forum. She asks if I remember the silence that met Schaben's remarks.
Schaben earns three votes. The moderate finishes last.
He can spin it that this is home base for Clovis, the Morningside College professor. Or, he can fault a balky microphone, or a full moon. He can claim he didn't stock the Skate Palace with buddies.
Or, maybe Scott Schaben isn't ready for this race. He laughs at himself, calling attention to typos in his campaign literature, admitting he's the one working to fix them. It's a shout-out to fiscal conservatism.
The vote suggests GOPers around here aren't about to embrace the 38-year-old U.S. Navy veteran. And maybe not ready to embrace a moderate whose position on same-sex marriage conflicts with the Iowa Republican Party platform.
Schaben, a sales manager, says he's simply opposing discrimination while being practical. To govern, Republicans need to win.
"Chasing people out of our party," he says, "will only hurt our party."