Two days after being spotlighted during the first Republican presidential debate, Vivek Ramaswamy saw a surge of Iowans flock to his campaign stops in central Iowa ahead of the Jan. 15 caucuses.
Ramaswamy, an Ohio biotech entrepreneur and an unabashed supporter of former President Donald Trump, found himself the focal point of 16 attacks during last week’s presidential debate in Milwaukee, more than any other candidate, according to NBC News.
The attention has heightened interest in Ramaswamy, who described himself as “a skinny guy with a funny last name” at the debate and who has been relegated to the middle of the pack of presidential contenders in a recent Iowa Poll. Just 4% of likely Republican caucusgoers named him their first choice, putting him in seventh place in the first-in-the-nation caucus state.
Yet by Friday morning, throngs of Iowans packed Ramaswamy’s appearances.
Iowa State Senate President Jake Chapman, Ramaswamy’s Iowa co-chair, said they planned for 75 to 100 people to attend an event at Fireside Bistro in Indianola, Iowa, last Friday morning. Instead, 300 people showed up, he estimated.
The turnout was so large that the campaign ordered more food for attendees. This was a clear sign that Ramaswamy got a bump in interest after the debate, Chapman said.
“What I think everyone saw was you had seven against one, and he came out the winner,” Chapman said. “The reason why I think he’s catching on fire is because he’s not talking about fighting against Joe Biden or policy differences. He’s leading with a vision of what is America.”
Sara Woodcock went to Ramaswamy’s Pella, Iowa, event later that morning during her husband’s lunch break. They watched the debate and learned about him for the first time, David Woodcock said.
David Woodcock had supported Trump but said he is “over” him now. Sara Woodcock still calls Trump her first choice. But they were both curious to learn more about Ramaswamy after his debate performance drew high marks from media pundits and many Republicans.
“He really stood out at the debate,” David Woodcock said. “I thought he and Nikki Haley stood out probably the most. (Florida Gov. Ron) DeSantis was OK.”
“I never knew who this guy was until the debate,” Sara Woodcock said.
After seeing Ramaswamy speak Wednesday, David Woodcock said he would consider voting for Ramaswamy.“I like what he stands for,” he said.
Sara Woodcock said Ramaswamy’s youth is an asset. The 38-year-old touts himself as “the first millennial to run for U.S. president as a Republican.” Ramaswamy his youthfulness is a reason for voters to vote for him.
“The fact that he might be able to reach some millennials that nobody else can,” Sara Woodcock said. “There’s still a lot of other people in the race that I like, but I was very impressed by what he had to say.”
“This is great to have fresh blood in there,” David Woodcock said.
Ramaswamy holds several positions similar to Trump. Last week, Ramaswamy said the next election has to be a “landslide election” to prevent questions from being raised about the winner.
“I’m the only candidate who has a (Ronald) Reagan 1980-style victory with a multi-ethnic, working-class coalition, particularly with people who are not just older, but people who are younger who we are bringing into our party,” Ramaswamy said.
Laurence Ladwig is a retired Vermeer Corp. employee who lives in Pella. Like the Woodcocks, Ladwig thinks that Ramaswamy’s youth is a plus, but he said his inexperience is a negative. Ramaswamy has never held elected office.
Ladwig was curious about Ramaswamy after seeing clips of him speaking on the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox at the Iowa State Fair. Ladwig is still trying to figure out who to vote for, though he likes Trump. But Ladwig likes how Ramaswamy can reach people, even if his inexperience is an issue, he said.
“Foreign policy, he doesn’t know what it is to run a government, city government, state government, nothing,” Ladwig said. “He couldn’t meet foreign leaders, I think, on the level.”
Pritesh Patel, 34, of Indianola, described himself as socially liberal and fiscally conservative. Patel chose Ramaswamy as his preferred candidate before Wednesday’s debate. A hotel owner in Indianola, Patel said Ramaswamy seems “authentic” and focused on things he can control.
“He understands the problems from our generation,” Patel said. “He’s inspiring.”
Patel also thought Ramaswamy helped himself with his debate performance.
“He laid out a vision for the U.S. in the future, and it’s an enticing vision,” Patel said.
Philip Joens covers retail, real estate and RAGBRAI for the Des Moines Register. He can be reached at 515-284-8184, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Philip_Joens.