MASON CITY, Iowa -- Rick Perry made a positive impression on undecided voters gathered here at this modest country club amid farmlands and an industrial railroad across the street.
First Read spoke with more than half a dozen of the 50 people here for dinner and a county GOP fundraiser. None of those half a dozen or so were decided -- and it could be shaping up to be a race for third place In Iowa between Perry and Rick Santorum.
“I was principally Santorum before tonight,” said Martha Pauley, of Clear Lake, here with her husband, Don. She said it was the first time she’d heard Perry and likes him. “I’m going to take a close look at him.”
Bev Lunsman, of Mason City, who was seated at the Pauleys’ dinner table, said it’s between Santorum and Perry for her also. “Both are really solid conservatives,” she said.
Don Pauley, who was wearing a Perry sticker – one given out on the way in -- said he’s undecided, but now “would consider him” [Perry] after his speech tonight. The speech was unremarkable for a Perry speech, hitting on many of the same notes he normally does.
But Lunsman, for example, said she was impressed with his tone. “He’s a straight talker,” she said. (All three said they liked Herman Cain. “Herman Cain is everything Obama’s not,” Lunsman said.)
“I like his values,” Don said.
The Pauleys said they caucused in 2008 for Michele Bachmann, despite her not running that year and Mike Huckabee, who won the state and this county, Cerro Gordo (translated, it mean colloquially "big shot" and literally "fat hill or mountain"), that year.
But this year, they’re not voting for Bachmann because they don’t see her as presidential. Bachmann likes to compare herself to Margaret Thatcher, but Don and Martha disagreed, saying she hadn’t won statewide and didn’t have the experience.
Don was blunter: “She’s not old enough. Give her 10 years.”
(Bachmann is 55. Santorum is younger. He’s 53.)
Another couple, Burt and Barbara Tekippe, both of Mason City, said coming in, they were undecided between Gingrich, Romney, and Perry – though they were leaning toward crossing Gingrich off their list. After tonight, though, Gingrich was eliminated in their minds. And Barbara was sold: “I’ve made up my mind,” she said affirmatively, saying the final decision for her was about abortion and a moment that highlighted that tonight.
A woman stood up and said she had an abortion when she was 18 before she “found the Lord.” She said she regretted it after having a child years later. She endorsed Perry, who gave her a hug after she spoke.
“That was it for me,” Barbara said.
For his part, Burt was still torn between Romney and Perry. He said he likes Romney’s business experience, but worries he’s not conservative enough. But he said he thought Perry had spent too much time in government.
“I like what he did in Texas,” Barbara interjected, directing her comment to her husband, who smiled.
Each Iowan said they would decide in the next couple of days – and maybe even on caucus night.
With a notepad full of notes she’d taken from various candidates she’d heard, Jodee Jones, of Mason City, said, she’ll listen to those that speak for the candidates on caucus night and is open to being convinced.
“Someone might say something that makes you think, ‘Well, I didn’t think of that,’” she said.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post had the incorrect translation of "Cerro Gordo.")