Iowa Campaign Contrast: Michele Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty and Ron Paul

ABC News’ Matthew Jaffe ( @ matthewbjaffe ) reports:

AMES, Iowa – The general consensus here in Ames ahead of tonight’s debate is that Michele Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty, and Ron Paul – in some order – will likely compose the top three in Saturday’s straw poll. If so, the three have starkly different styles – and one need look no further than their campaign events to see just how different they are.

When Pawlenty last month visited a sports bar in Indianola, he fielded numerous questions from reporters -- whoever wanted to ask one got their chance to do so. When Bachmann spoke at the same bar on Friday, her press availability consisted of answering three questions from reporters who had all been put on a prepared list given to her by her campaign beforehand.

Even before Bachmann arrives at an event, the music is blaring. And I mean, blaring. Like, to the point where it’s hard to hear the person next to you talk. Then the carefully orchestrated arrival starts to take shape. At her event at the Humboldt County Republicans’ picnic on Tuesday evening, a tent was set up to the left and rear of the main outdoor stage. A Penske rental truck moved around a few times until it parked to the right and rear of the stage. As the music slowly but surely made my ears bleed, a massive blue bus pulled up – Bachmann had arrived. The bus parked directly behind the stage, between the tent and the truck. And there it sat for a few minutes while people anxiously awaited Bachmann’s appearance. Finally out she came, eagerly greeting her passionate fans that lined the stage. The event had the feel of a rally, with Bachmann firing up the crowd at every turn. When her speech wrapped up, the music quickly came back on, Bachmann did some more glad-handing, posed for photos, signed some autographs – through it all, a handful of security guards stayed close by her side, attentively shielding her from anyone who they didn’t want near the candidate (read: press). And then it was time to get back on the bus – before boarding it, she stopped to sign one last poster.

“Let’s make Obama a one-term president,” she wrote on the board. “I’ll get ‘er done!”

As she walked up the stairs to the bus, she turned around to bid farewell to her fans, the same way the president stops at the top of the Air Force One stairs for one last wave. Bachmann said a few parting words and then she was off, leaving me to go off in search of hearing aids.

Look no further than Pawlenty’s appearance at that very same event in Humboldt to see the difference between the two Minnesotans. For starters, Pawlenty spoke indoors. As far as I could tell, there was nothing choreographed about his arrival at all. He just appeared in the back of the room suddenly, standing there, listening to introductions, bowing his head in prayer and saying the pledge of allegiance. There was no music, thankfully. Overall his appearance in Humboldt was hardly like a rally. Pawlenty cracked a few jokes, but for the most part it was a subdued speech. Pawlenty clearly did not expect to top Bachmann on excitement, but he did want to beat her in substance. After the event, he greeted a few supporters and then he made for the exits, paving the way for the next speaker to take the stage. Instead of a blue bus, Pawlenty stepped on to a non-descript white RV. There was no waving from the stairs. In fact, there weren’t many people left outside at that point to watch him depart, aside from one family who posed for a photo with him. And just like that he was off for his next event in Fort Dodge.

I haven’t been to a Paul event since one in Cedar Rapids a few weeks ago, but if you want to talk about substance, there was plenty of it there. Paul seemed far more interested in talking about the Federal Reserve – boring as it might be to some people – than he did about exciting the audience. That stands to reason, since for the most part Paul’s supporters are a fervent bunch of long-time followers. In fact, at that event I asked a question about a “Made in America” story we were doing for “World News Tonight” and afterwards one Paul supporter approached me wondering why I hadn’t been asking about “more important things” like the Fed. In case you were wondering about Paul’s transportation, he hopped into a black Suburban and then drove off. It was in the midst of the debt ceiling debate in Washington, so the congressman had to jet back to DC for votes.

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