By Molly Hunter and Madeleine Neal | firstname.lastname@example.org
BOONE, Iowa — A sea of steel encompassed the front lot of Big Barn Harley-Davidson in Des Moines on the morning of June 3 as more than 500 motorcyclists prepared for their journey. The motorcyclists headed off to the Central Iowa Expo in Boone for Sen. Joni Ernst’s third-annual Roast and Ride.
Ernst, R-Iowa, said the event raises funds for veterans’ charities, which, she acknowledged, also presents a campaign opportunity. Other politicians attended as guests, including Vice President Mike Pence.
“I think it is really important we are showcasing the opportunities Republicans have had in the past, how we’ve been able to bring everybody together with grass-roots efforts to get Republicans elected,” Ernst told The Daily Iowan. “This is one way for us to say thank you to all of those folks who go out and make the phone calls, knock on those doors, get people excited about the Republican platform.”
Every year, proceeds from the event go to a charity to support veterans. This year’s charity was Hope for the Warriors, an organization that assists post-9/11 veterans.
The event’s focus on veterans was joined with Republicans endorsing the party and its platform. Guests in addition to Pence included Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C.; Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa; Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds; and Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa.
The platform, however, was not only endorsed by guests but also by the event’s workers and attendees.
“It’s fabulous for [Ernst], and it’ll be nice to see the vice president,” Roast and Ride volunteer Maribeth Waldman said.
As a senator, Ernst has supported bills that aim to reform the veterans’ health-care system.
“We have a father-in-law who’s a 96-year-old and a World War II vet,” said Gary Godwin, another motorcyclist. “And I know a couple Vietnam vets and have friends and family, and it’s ridiculous for them to have to search out health care.”
Godwin attended the first Roast and Ride in 2014.
“It was an election year, so it was good to hear the different candidates speak,” he said. “I actually got to spend some time visiting with some candidates at that one.”
Pence’s much-anticipated arrival came with a U.S. Secret Service search of all incoming vehicles. Additionally, sources told the DI that Pence’s flight delay caused events to run slightly behind schedule. Event volunteers, however, told the DI they did not think the delay heavily affected the day’s events.
Upon his arrival, Pence restated several of President Trump’s campaign promises, including the construction of a wall on the border between the United States and Mexico and the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act.
“As the proud father of a United States Marine, I couldn’t be more grateful to a president … who cares so deeply about the men and women of the armed forces of the United State of America,” Pence said. “Congress, under the president, [and] with the support of your senator, just passed the largest increase in military spending in nearly 10 years.”
During Ernst’s event, the Boone County Democrats hosted a Picnic for the People, which they called an alternative event to Ernst’s Roast and Ride.
Mike Mathews, one of the motorcyclists who participated in the Roast and Ride, said people protested along the Roast and Ride’s route.
“When we came through Polk City, there were probably 10 people, mostly women maybe in their 30s, standing there with real derogatory signs against Trump,” he said. “Even a little girl holding a sign, probably didn’t even know what the heck it meant. One of them said ‘F Trump.’ ”
Despite disagreeing with the protesters’ beliefs, Mathews said their right to protest is protected.
“[The event] is raising money for military veterans, recognizing the military veterans that have died for us,” he said. “People don’t even know what it’s all about, standing there with signs. People have died for their right to do that.”