From NBC’s Alex Moe & Andrew Rafferty
ALTOONA, Iowa – After an emotional roundtable discussion, six Republican presidential candidates put on their party hats and headed to Adventureland to kiss the ring of the don of Iowa politics.
Iowa Gov. Terry Brandstad takes part in the Health and Human Services Committee meeting at the National Governors Association winter meeting in Washington, Sunday, Feb. 27, 2011. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Gov. Terry Brandstad celebrated his 65th birthday tonight, and five candidates – Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul – stopped by to celebrate and address the nearly 300-person crowd.
Newt Gingrich was the only candidate to attend the Family Leader Thanksgiving Forum but not speak at the birthday party.
The former House speaker did show up late, however, and apologized to the governor for his tardiness, explaining he needed to fulfill an obligation he made with Fox News.
Perry, the Texas governor, was first to take the stage at Adventureland Palace Theater just outside Des Moines.
With his wife, Anita Perry, by his side, he joked, "We just got through with a little debate downtown and she asked me -- she said, ‘Where do you want to go,’ and I said, ‘Let's go to Adventureland.’”
Cupcakes bearing the Iowa governor’s likeness – with a special emphasis on his signature mustache -- were served up as dessert.
Bachmann, the Republican Minnesota represtnative, said, "I bought my own mustache and so because there's cameras here, I won't put it on. But just to let you know, I'm for you Terry Branstad, happy birthday!"
The candidates weaved between doling out Brandstad birthday wishes and giving abridged versions of their stump speeches in front of a crowd filled with many likely caucus voters.
Embed Alex Moe recaps two big GOP events in the Hawkeye State Saturday night: a Thanksgiving Forum and the Governor's birthday party both attended by 6 presidential candidates.
The two noticeable candidate absences tonight were Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman. Speaking to reporters, Brandstad made it clear he did not approve of Romney missing out on his party.
“I think they made a mistake by not being here,” said Brandstad of Romney’s absence. “I hope they'll spend a lot more time between now and January 3rd here is Iowa.” (Romney plans to be there Wednesday.)
Still, the night was not all politics and at times resembled a roast of the longest serving governor in Iowa history.
"I was a little surprised,” Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, joked, “last I heard he was 39 and now all of a sudden he is 65. How did that work out?”