DES MOINES — This weekend, scores of Iowa political activists will travel to Central Iowa to have a big cookout and hear from presidential candidates.
But for the first time in decades, it will be Republicans — not Democrats — eating grilled meat and listening to political red meat.
Joni Ernst, Iowa’s freshman U.S. senator, will host her inaugural Roast and Ride fundraiser Saturday at the Central Iowa Expo in Boone. The event features a 39-mile motorcycle ride, a pork roast, a band and speeches from seven presidential candidates and potential candidates.
The event sounds similar to the Harkin Steak Fry, which former U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin hosted almost every summer between 1972 and 2014. His retirement after four decades in Congress created the open seat won by Ernst in November.
With that changing of the guard, the Steak Fry is gone and the Roast and Ride is born.
“I’m so excited,” Ernst said this week during a phone interview from her Washington, D.C., office. “It’s just a great way for me to get to know more folks across Iowa and just have a family-friendly, fun event. And, of course, highlight some of our great presidential hopefuls as well.”
Ernst’s first event comes at a fortuitous time for her and the party. With an open White House in 2016, potential candidates are barnstorming first-in-the-nation Iowa.
The Republican field is particularly packed, with more than a dozen declared or considering.
Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina and Lindsey Graham are scheduled to speak Saturday.
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“I am really interested to hear what some of them have to say,” said Ernst, who has said she does not plan to endorse a candidate during the primary process.
The Harkin Steak Fry sometimes served as a candidate launcher. The 2007 Steak Fry drew more than 15,000 people as Democrats weighed whom to nominate for an open White House run following the two terms of Republican President George W. Bush.
“It’s hard to say if (the Roast and Ride) is going to be the same sort of thing,” said Tim Hagle, a political-science professor at the University of Iowa. “It’s kind of obvious with Ernst replacing Harkin that maybe she would try to do something along those lines.”
The event starts with a motorcycle ride from a Harley-Davidson dealer in Des Moines to the event site in Boone.
Vets to be honored
Ernst, a motorcycle owner and rider, said the ride will honor veterans. Walker has pledged to join the ride, which will pass the Iowa U.S. Army National Guard camp where Ernst serves as a lieutenant colonel, and cross the Saylorville Lake Mile Long Bridge.
“It seems every time I’m home and we have time to get the bikes out, it’s raining. So, it just hasn’t worked out this spring. So, I am looking forward to Saturday,” Ernst said.
Lynch BBQ, which is catering the meal, plans to prepare between 500 and 700 pounds of pork, according to David Lynch of the Waucoma-based company.
Lynch said the menu includes pork loins, ribs, sausage and a whole hog.
Ernst’s campaign said “hundreds” of $30 tickets have been sold and that a portion of the proceeds will be donated to a veterans organization.
If you go
What: Inaugural Roast and Ride fundraiser
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* 11 a.m.: Kickoff at Big Barn Harley-Davidson in Des Moines, followed by 39-mile motorcycle ride to event site
* 11:30 a.m.: Doors open at Central Iowa Expo in Boone
* 1 p.m.: Program starts
Tickets: $30 for adults, $12 for children younger than 12
Speakers: U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, Gov. Terry Branstad, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, U.S. Rep. David Young, U.S. Rep. Steve King
Presidential candidates speaking: Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker