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Stump speeches: Regulators, locusts and jokes aplenty
By Ivan Couronne
Des Moines, United States (AFP) Feb 5, 2016

Agence France-Presse has launched a weekly series of reporters' blogs taking readers behind the scenes of the 2016 US election for a look at the events and attitudes shaping the White House race.

The second post in the series comes from the heartland state of Iowa, which on February 1 held the first vote in the months-long nomination process leading up to the November election:

- On the stump -

On the US presidential campaign trail, a candidate can make up to seven speeches a day. So he or she cannot exactly reinvent the wheel each time.

Enter: the stump speech.

So named because candidates of yore once stood on sawed-off tree stumps to deliver their campaign, the stump speech is a White House hopeful's bread and butter message -- a spiel repeated nearly word-for-word, day in and day out.

The journalists on the campaign trail -- from cable news network reporters to the newspaper and wire hacks -- often can finish a candidate's sentences, after hearing the speeches so frequently, and usually only listen with half an ear as the politico drones on in an Iowa diner or corner bar.

The goal for reporters is to pick out the tiniest changes in the speech -- one changed word or some nuance in tone that could indicate a shift in strategy. Not an easy task, especially when you are only half-listening.

Is Hillary Clinton trying to beef up her economic proposals to counter rival Bernie Sanders, who is constantly attacking her for being too cozy with Wall Street and not "progressive" enough?

Just before the Iowa caucuses, which she won by a razor-thin margin, she added to her stump speech an anecdote about auto parts maker Johnson Controls, which she accused of trying to evade US taxes by aligning with a European firm.

"It's called an inversion. I think it should be called a perversion," she said at a bowling alley in the Iowa town of Adel -- population, roughly 4,000. Rhyming is always a winning speech gimmick.

With Sanders nipping at her heels in the polls, and even eclipsing her in some of them, the former secretary of state also tried out a new catch phrase.

"I'm not interested in ideas that sound good on paper but will never make it in the real world," she said.

Translation: Bernie is a dreamer, and not a pragmatic choice for president.

She used the line again at a Des Moines high school on the eve of the caucuses before a crowd of about 2,600. Again, a winner.

- Laugh-in -

Beyond the camera-ready policy sound bites and the rhyming digs at rivals, another hallmark of the stump speech is humor. It's a classic way to win over the audience.

Ted Cruz -- who ended up dumping Donald Trump in Iowa -- often begins his speeches by dissecting the word "politics" -- "poli" for many (mixing up the Greek poly and the Latin poli, it would seem), and "tics" for.... "blood-sucking parasites"?

The gag worked like a charm at the North Star restaurant in Fenton, Iowa -- but not as well as the Texas senator's next line in his stump speech-turned-standup routine.

"I'm reminded of some years back, it was out in west Texas. And I asked folks there, what's the difference between regulators and locusts?" Cruz asked.

"I said, well the thing is, you can't use pesticide on regulators. And this old west Texas farmer, he leaned back and said: wanna bet?"

The room erupted in peals of laughter.

But Cruz -- who next takes on Trump in New Hampshire on February 9 -- wasn't done.

He asked Iowans to "vote ten times" -- was the ultra-conservative senator asking them to cheat? No -- just a set-up for his next one-liner.

"We're not Democrats -- I'm not supporting voter fraud," he said, asking each voter to persuade nine friends to join his camp. More chortles.

In Waterloo on a Saturday night, he launched this gem: "It was so cold I saw a Democrat with his hands in his own pockets."

But Cruz is not alone in the laugh fest.

- 'Go talk to a scientist'-

Clinton tends to go for sarcasm. In her blurb on climate change, she rails against Republicans who reject the idea of man-made global warming. They say they can't be sure as they are not scientists.

"Well, go talk to a scientist, you can actually learn something if you listen," she retorts.

But the Republicans are the kings of irony.

The first 13 minutes of one of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's stump speeches in Iowa on a college campus were broken up with six laugh lines.

"I have to believe that you are relieved that we'll be out of your television sets, out of your mailboxes, out of your diners," he told voters, who are besieged by presidential wannabes once every four years.

Christie and Marco Rubio seem to be able to tell the same jokes over and over with spontaneity -- quite a talent.

The Florida senator has likely proclaimed hundreds of times that he could have played in the National Football League, if not for his "lack of size, speed and talent."

"If this doesn't work, I'm going to be a commissioner of the NFL," he also says, all the time.

Rubio rarely mocks his rivals, but he has a good line on Sanders, who describes himself as a democratic socialist.

"Bernie Sanders can't be the president of the United States -- he should run for president of Sweden," he says.

Of course, Sweden is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system, not a presidency.

But Rubio sticks to the script.


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