Pawlenty, Bachmann already appeal to some Iowa voters

Guthrie Center watertower
In Guthrie Center, Iowa, the Republicans easily outnumber the Democrats. And many voters are already thinking about 2012, Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

Guthrie Center, Iowa, is about an hour west of Des Moines. It's a farming community of about 1,500 people, mostly Republicans. And they're thinking about the two Minnesotans -- one announced candidate for president (Tim Pawlenty) and one unannounced (Michele Bachmann).

One of those Republicans is self-employed businessman Todd Hambelton. He spends a lot of time listening to conservative talk radio.

Rush Limbaugh and company inform and entertain Hambleton as he coordinates the production and sales of a magnetic metal retrieval tool his dad invented. He said he's sold more than a million of his "attractor" magnets on sticks. But he's irritated that he's lost business to knock-off products from China. He's concerned about cheap imports, and he thinks the U.S. tax code punishes success.

"Every day you get up to go to work to satisfy these orders on these accounts that you've got," Hambelton said. "Where's the incentive to go out and get another account like that? There is none. Now you're in the next tax bracket."

Hambleton calls himself an anti-establishment Republican.

Self-employed businessman Todd Hambelton
Self-employed businessman Todd Hambelton
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

"[T]hat's why I like Michele Bachmann," he said. "Because she is ruffling some feathers. I don't want a RINO in the White House -- Republican In Name Only. And that's why I like Michele Bachmann. I don't know much as much about Pawlenty as her. Because she is saying things and doing things that the regular Democrat or Republican establishment doesn't like."

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Many of the other businesspeople on State Street in Guthrie Center's small downtown don't want to be on the radio talking about 2012 Republican presidential politics. An insurance agent said it could be bad for business. The president of the bank said it's way too early to start offering his opinions.

But financial planner Werdna Rumelhart said she's concerned about the debt and national security. She likes both Rep. Bachmann and former Gov. Pawlenty.

"I don't know a lot about him.," she said. "I know he's done well where he is, and I do like him."

Retired farmer Ron Mortensen
Retired farmer Ron Mortensen
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

And Bachmann?

"What do I know about her? She's very conservative, and I really like her too, so I'm hoping somebody like her or Tim will be there."

In front of the lawn and garden store and flower shop, another Republican, retired farmer Ron Mortensen, said he's certainly not happy with President Obama. But he's not impressed with any of the people vying for Obama's job.

"I hope the candidate that emerges hasn't even showed up yet," Mortensen said. "Get away from the 'good old boy' Republican politics and get somebody that knows what day-to-day life and business is. Period."

But in the post office parking lot, Richard Lowden, a retired pipefitter, said anyone would be better than Obama.

Retired pipefitter Richard Lowden
Retired pipefitter Richard Lowden
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

"I'd rather vote for Mickey Mouse than have Obama do four more years."

Lowden says he doesn't know anything about Pawlenty. But he knows Bachmann from seeing her on TV, and he likes her a lot.

"She sounds like she tells the truth and she's honest."

The corn is already up in the fields outside of Guthrie Center. Surprisingly, no one had any objections to Pawlenty's call to phase out ethanol subsidies, even though such a move would likely bring down corn prices.

"I'd say it was a gutsy move," farmer Jim Beck said. "It took guts to say that. Some people aren't going to like to hear that, but I guess if everything's on the cutting board, ethanol could be one of them."

In 2008 when Republican Mike Huckabee won the Iowa caucuses, many observers said he did it by appealing to Christian conservatives. Spend a day in a place like Guthrie Center, and it's clear that these Republican voters are most concerned about the federal debt and government spending. The candidate who's best able to convince them he or she is serious about cutting spending is likely to win.