CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – Iowa voters don’t hold back. They have seen and heard it all before, spending months thumping presidential wannabes like melons in a market stall. They know what works and what doesn’t, and they’ll just flat out say it to a governor’s, senator’s or representative’s face.
“You’re clearer in your answers now, more direct,” Maxine Heath, 68, told former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum after he called on her during a question-and-answer session following a speech Tuesday night to a group of about 120 Republican activists. She was comparing his stump speech to the one she heard last year at a local country club during a gathering of conservative women.
“My suggestion is take it to ‘em and don’t apologize,” Heath said.
Santorum said he is improving because of her and voters in other early nominating states. In fact, he said he calls the voters of Iowa and New Hampshire the “pencil sharpener crew” in discussions with his advisers. “Sometimes it hurts when you’re the pencil,” Santorum joked, “but you get sharper.”
Later, he told reporters that he’d given at least 150 speeches since the woman’s first encounter with him. “You keep practicing something you’re bound to get better,” he said. This two-day visit was his 12th trip to Iowa, his first after announcing the formation of a “testing the waters” committee, a more formal step toward running for president.