While the Pawlenty campaign labors to regain traction in this part of the state, Bachmann continues to draw large crowds, whether or not she shows up in person. The day after she spoke via phone to the Sioux County parking lot crowd, she was in a public park in the town of Spencer, in Iowa’s Clay County, addressing a crowd of about 175 enthusiasts mostly seated around picnic tables, a few of whom shouted “Michele” in greeting. She roused her admirers with short emphatic declarations and rhetorical questions.
“I love freedom,” she called out.
“Yeah,” several people howled.
“That’s what this country is about,” she went on, adding: “What’s wrong with freedom? . . . Why in the world should the people in the federal government tell us how to lead our lives?”
Pawlenty is capable of exhibiting fire, too, though seldom publicly. By the time he had reached that library in Sioux City, the questions about his low-key style had ignited his irritation. Outside as the sun fell, with his small crowd gone and the day behind him, his frustrations poured out.
“I say this a little tongue-in-cheek,” he said soberly, his 6-foot-3-inch frame ramrod-straight. “I’m an old hockey player. I’ve probably been in more fights than all these candidates in the race.”
He began tapping a reporter’s chest with a forefinger, not pugnaciously, perhaps not even consciously. He was simply trying to make a point. He settled on the number of fights he has had.
“Probably not more than a half-dozen. But I tell you: If you asked the other candidates how many times they’ve been punched in the face and how many times they’ve been in fights?” He paused. “I didn’t win them all. But, seriously, if you go into a bar, the loudest person is almost never the toughest. They’re usually just the loudest and drunkest. . . . I’m serious about that.”
He would not attach a name to the loudest person in the bar, not Bachmann’s or any other rival’s, back to being as oblique as ever. But he was still stewing. And that made him think again of Romney. He repeated that he will not squander the opportunity to engage the front-runner, if the opportunity again presents itself. Romney will be standing just a few feet away at Thursday’s debate — but so, too, will Bachmann, auditioning like Pawlenty for the role of his chief alternative.
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