Turns out Republican delegates are smarter than fifth- and sixth-graders. Which came as a major surprise to the youngest of the delegates.

"That was the smartest bunch of kids I've ever seen," said Mike Knopf, the Iowa delegate who turns 18 on Halloween. "They are way smarter than I was in the sixth grade."

A half-dozen Republican visitors edged a like number of students from Bloomington's Oak Grove Middle School 250-220 in a "Kids Stump the Delegates" contest Tuesday morning at the Mall of America. The civics-oriented questions generally fell into two categories: very easy (the colors of the flag, what ship the Pilgrims came over on) to exceedingly difficult.

The tough queries generally involved quotations. "Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men," anyone? Anyone? (It was John F. Kennedy.) The kids took a brief lead when the delegates, after correctly identifying Theodore Roosevelt as having said "walk [sic] softly and carry a big stick," could not answer the follow-up question: Where did he say it?

After a lengthy confab, "a political convention" was the guess. But the correct answer was the 1901 Minnesota State Fair, as every schoolkid knows. Or not.

"None of us knew that, either," said Michael Reinhardt, who had been the student's primary "go-to" guy.

The big winner on the day was the school, which got a $750 donation ($500 in honor of the victors) from the MOA. All the participants also received a bag full of goodies -- including gift cards that Knopf was headed upstairs to use after the proceedings -- but the younger contestants garnered an extra bonus:

They got to spend the second day of their school year at the Mall of America.

Bill Ward • 612-673-7643