Republican presidential candidates kick off Iowa State Fair events

By: - August 10, 2023 12:24 pm

Former Vice President Mike Pence answers questions from the crowd at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox on Aug. 10, 2023. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Several Republican presidential candidates spoke to Iowans at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines Thursday, holding events with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox.

It was the first day of the 10-day long event that historically brings presidential candidates out to directly interact with Iowa caucusgoers and show their affability.

While the Register Political Soapbox is typically the only speaking event for presidential candidates headed to the State Fair, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced plans in July to host a series of “fair-side chats” at the Fair with 2024 Republican candidates, saying in a statement the interviews offered an “incredible opportunity to share their message directly with Iowans.”

“With just six months to go until the Iowa Caucus, it’s crunch time!” Reynolds said.


Three Republican candidates — former gubernatorial candidate Larry Elder, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and former Vice President Mike Pence — spoke at the fair Thursday.  A fourth, Perry Johnson, was also on the fairgrounds and met informally with fairgoers.

Other 2024 candidates, including former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, as well as Democratic contenders Marianne Williamson and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., plan to attend the fair Saturday.

While Republican hopefuls gave their campaign pitch and spoke on policies at the Fair, they also made sure to highlight fun moments. Burgum grilled pork chops at the Iowa Pork Tent, and Elder told Reynolds his funniest story from the campaign trail was meeting a supporter in New York City who invited him to visit his “establishment.”

“I thought it’d be a nice restaurant — a strip club,” Elder said. “I said, ‘I will probably carry Massachusetts now.'”

Here’s what candidates were saying at State Fair events Thursday:

4 months ago

Mike Pence defends election result certification, U.S. aid to Ukraine at State Fair

By: - 6:37 pm
Former Vice President Mike Pence answers questions from the crowd at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox on Aug. 10, 2023. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Former Vice President Mike Pence was met with cheers, heckling and questions about his decision to certify the 2020 election results.

The crowd spilled into the walkway gathered to listen to former President Donald Trump’s running mate in 2016 and 2020, who now is competing against him for the 2024 Republican nomination. Pence answered questions from the crowd, which included one person who accused him of committing treason when he certified the 2020 presidential election results on Jan. 6, 2021.

Trump has repeatedly made false claims that the 2020 election was “stolen,” and that Pence could have rejected “fraudulently chosen” electors during Congress’ Electoral College certification process in a bid to overturn the election results.

When some others booed the asker, Pence said it’s a “fair question” and a reason why he came to talk to people at the Iowa State Fair. He told the person to read Article 2 of the U.S. Constitution, which says the president of the U.S. Senate — who is also the U.S. vice president — “shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted.”

“It doesn’t say ‘may,’ it doesn’t say you could send them back to the states, it doesn’t say you can reject votes, even though my former running mate and many of his outside lawyers told me that that authority was there, I knew there never was,” Pence said. “I mean, look, there’s almost no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person could pick the American president. The American presidency belongs to the American people and the American people alone.”

His response was met with both booing and cheers. Speaking with reporters after the event, Pence said he “appreciated” the man asking him a question about the election results and certification.

“I appreciated him giving me a respectful listening,” Pence said. “And I hope people looking on who had any questions about that also listened. I also hope they look at the Constitution itself. I reminded him that’s where it all began for me, was taking an oath to support defend the Constitution, and I know by God’s grace on January 6, I kept my oath.”

While Pence was giving his speech at the Iowa State Fair, Trump responded on Truth Social, the social media platform he founded.

“I never asked Mike Pence to ‘disregard the Constitution,’ ” Trump wrote. “Nor did I tell him that he was ‘too honest.’ He is under great pressure and getting very bad advice from Marc ‘Long’ and perhaps some of his other advisers. His Poll numbers have just gone down from an already anemic level. Liddle’ Mike now wants to be a tough guy. He could have had greatness, but chose another path!”

Pence also defended his position on U.S. support of Ukraine in the country’s war against Russia when asked about his discussion with former Fox host Tucker Carlson at the Family Leadership Summit in July. He said it was a “sporting debate” with Carlson, who has long advocated against the U.S. financially backing Ukraine.

He said videos of that talk with Carlson did not present his full answer, saying “we used to call that fake news.” He said he stands on the “Reagan doctrine,” that the U.S. should support countries fighting its enemies in their home countries “so we don’t have to fight them somewhere else.”

“Anybody that thinks Vladimir Putin is going to stop if he overruns Ukraine has got another thing coming,” Pence said. “If Vladimir Putin overruns Ukraine, it’s not going to be too long before he crosses a border of a NATO country where we’re going to have to send our men and women in uniform to fight.”

4 months ago

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum says he is ‘confident’ Summit pipeline will move forward in his state

By: - 3:02 pm
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum answered questions from reporters after his speech at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox on Aug. 10, 2023. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum said he expects to see the Summit Carbon Solutions pipeline project completed through North Dakota despite a recent state board vote to deny a permit.

Burgum, a 2024 Republican presidential candidate, spoke to reporters Thursday after he addressed a crowd of 40 at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox.

In his speech, the candidate said he was focused on three issues: energy, economy and national security. These topics all tie together when it comes to energy production, he said, calling for the U.S. to do more to produce and distribute energy domestically.

He criticized Democrats and President Joe Biden’s administration for using programs like the Inflation Reduction Act to support the transition to electric vehicles, which he said are manufactured in “a factory powered by coal in China.” The country needs to be less dependent on countries like Russia and China for energy, Burgum said, which means increasing domestic energy production by supporting the building of carbon capture pipelines across the country.

“If you talk about energy independence, at the time of the Russian invasion (of Ukraine), there was 400,000 barrels of oil a day … coming into New England, because you can’t get a permit in this country to take clean U.S. natural gas from Pennsylvania through New York and into New England,” Burgum told reporters. “Because for ideological reasons, we’re … not going to permit pipelines. But that’s a national security risk.”

The North Dakota Public Service Commission unanimously voted in early August to deny a siting permit for Summit Carbon Solutions. The commission found Summit’s proposal either did not minimize its impact on the environment and residents, or didn’t have sufficient proof that it does. The company responded that these issues would be addressed in a revised application.

The planned Summit pipeline is expected to cost $5 billion and span five Midwestern states, including Iowa. Environmental advocates and some landowners also oppose the pipeline project in Iowa, where the Iowa Utilities Board is expected to begin a final evidentiary hearing on Summit’s hazardous liquid pipeline permit request in less than two weeks.

On the North Dakota commission decision, Burgum said he believes the Summit project will move forward.

“I have every expectation that that pipeline is going to be approved in North Dakota,” Burgum said. “There’s going to be a reconsideration of that process, I’m sure. And as they have done in the past, they’ve been super accommodating in routing around. If you got a farmer that doesn’t want a big check for an easement, you know, their neighbor probably does, and they’ll keep making adjustments. And so I’m fully confident it’s going to be built.”

Burgum will also be at the State Fair Friday, meeting with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds for a “fair-side chat” interview at 8:30 a.m. at the JR’s SouthPork Ranch.

4 months ago

Larry Elder talks executive order plan to stop family from ‘making money off of the Oval Office’

By: - 12:24 pm
2024 Republican presidential candidate Larry Elder speaks with a voter at the Iowa State Fair following his “fair-side chat” with Gov. Kim Reynolds Thursday, August 10. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

California talk show host Larry Elder laid out plans for his first days in office if elected president, but specified his main goal in the race was to “push the nominee” on issues the GOP ignores.

“Even if I’m not the nominee, I can just push the nominee to talk about the epidemic of fatherlessness, the lie that America is systematically racist that is dividing the country and getting people killed, the need for school choice … If I can just push them to talk about that stuff, I have done my job,” Elder said. “I have done my duty, that’s why I’m doing this.”

Elder ran unsuccessfully for California governor in 2021. He was the first 2024 Republican presidential candidate to hold a speaking event at the Iowa State Fair Thursday, starting off the morning with Gov. Kim Reynolds at her first “fair-side chat” event. There were more reporters than guests at the JR’s SouthPork Ranch interview, but those in attendance cheered when he talked about issues like school choice and limits on federal spending.

Elder said he is an “America First” candidate like former President Donald Trump and if elected president, he would pardon Trump on day one in office. Elder also said that on his first day in office, he would sign an executive order named the “Blind Spot” initiative to prevent family members of the president and vice president from making money off their relations’ political positions.

This executive order would stop “all this Hunter Biden stuff, this Jared Kushner stuff,” Elder said. U.S. House Republicans issued a House Oversight Committee report Wednesday criticizing Biden and his son Hunter for allegedly corrupt foreign business dealings, though the report did not find evidence that the then-vice president was involved or financially benefitted from his son’s business relationships.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, has faced criticism for securing a $2 billion investment from a fund led by a Trump ally, the Saudi crown price. Elder wrote a column in the Washington Examiner about his planned executive order, which he said would prevent family members of the president and vice president from “making money off of the Oval Office” while their family is actively serving until five years after their term.

“This is nonsense,” Elder said at the State Fair. “I’m gonna be sitting down with my lawyer he’s gonna make sure we can do it consistent with the First Amendment but there’s got to be something done about this. Harry Truman standard: (if) you go into politics poor, you come out rich, you’re stealing.”


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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. They have experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald.