Large crowd gathers in Sibley for the Republican Iowa caucus
SIBLEY, Iowa -- There were plenty of Ron Paul signs and bumper stickers to be seen Tuesday night inside the Osceola County Courthouse.
Support, however, was by no means solely for the Texas Congressman inside the building, where four of the county's nine precincts gathered to participate in the statewide Iowa caucus. A crowd of more than 100 packed the courtroom at the start of the evening's proceedings, hearing entreaties from supporters of five Republican candidates for president -- Rick Perry, Paul, Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum.
Mark Elliott, a small businessman from Austin, Texas, was the first to address the caucus crowd in support of a candidate -- but he first told the throng he was sorry.
"I was one of those people making those annoying phone calls, and I apologize," said Elliott, referring to the deluge of calls Iowans received in the final days leading up to caucus night.
Elliott praised Perry's economic policies for aiding the success of his and other small businesses in Texas, adding that he would promote similar growth nationwide if elected president.
Next to speak was Kevin Wolfswinkel of Sibley, who urged caucus-goers to support Paul. Midway through his remarks, Wolfswinkel quoted 19th-century Senator and Secretary of State Daniel Webster.
"There is no nation on earth powerful enough to accomplish our overthrow. Our destruction, should it come at all, will be from another quarter," Wolfswinkel said, quoting Webster. "From the inattention of the people to the concerns of their government, from their carelessness and negligence. I must confess that I do apprehend some danger. I fear that they may place too implicit a confidence in their public servants, and fail properly to scrutinize their conduct; that in this way they may be made the dupes of designing men, and become the instruments of their own undoing."
Added Wolfswinkel later: "He (Paul) has the strange idea that the men who wrote the Constitution knew what they were talking about."
Wolfswinkel had at least two supporters in his camp -- wife Laurie and daughter Kelsey. It was Kelsey who had hung signs and posted stickers around the courthouse.
"I just think his stance on things has been different, and what's going in Washington hasn't been working," Kelsey said. "Paul's different, and we need someone different."
Matt Winter, a Sibley attorney who prefaced his remarks by calling himself "one of the longest-winded people you'll ever meet," stayed within his required five-minute allotment in explaining his reasons for supporting Romney.
Winter first praised Paul, stating that he identified with many of the congressman's libertarian values, but said Romney was the "practical" choice to be the Republican nominee.
"Mitt Romney is a businessman and a former executive of a state," said Winter, who compared Romney's being governor of a liberal Massachusetts to Ronald Reagan's being governor of a liberal California. "Mitt Romney is the sober candidate who can go to Washington and take his experience and transform businesses."
Romney, said Winter, worked well with Democrats to "create successful solutions for the state of Massachusetts" and would do so as president.
"At the end of the day, there is one candidate that Barack Obama is afraid of facing, and that's Mitt Romney," Winter said. "Let's give Barack Obama someone to be scared of."
A man who didn't identify himself spoke in support of Bachmann for less than a full minute. The next and final individual to speak for a candidate was Joe Feller, another Sibley attorney, who said he was supporting Santorum.
"I've met Rick twice and gotten to know him pretty well," Feller said prior to the start of the caucus event. "He has the same values I do, he has experience in Washington, D.C., he can hold his own in a debate and on 'Meet the Press' with David Gregory (Sunday), I think he did pretty well.
"I think as people get to know more about Rick, I think they'll find he's pretty electable."
Feller told caucus-goers that while he initially favored Romney among the GOP presidential candidates, he feared an overall lack of enthusiasm for Romney might hurt him in a general election.
"Rick has done a good job, he's a family man and he's got experience in Congress," he said.
With seven of nine Osceola County precincts reporting late Tuesday, Santorum has garnered 29 percent of the vote and Paul 28 percent. Romney had recorded 21 percent, Newt Gingrich 9 percent, Perry 7 percent and Bachmann 6 percent.