Fairgoers mingle with five GOP presidential candidates on Day 2 of Iowa State Fair

By: - August 11, 2023 10:41 am

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum shared a laugh with Gov. Kim Reynolds talking about his 1980s haircut during a “fair-side chat” at the Iowa State Fair Aug. 11, 2023. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Five GOP presidential candidates were at the Iowa State Fair Friday, mixing campaign speeches and talking with Iowans with traditional fair activities like grilling pork chops and taking a peek at the Butter Cow.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, former Vice President Mike Pence and California talk show host Larry Elder were all return visitors to the Des Moines Iowa State Fairgrounds.

Pence told the crowd at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox Thursday that he and his wife, Karen Pence, had plans to visit the livestock barns, while Burgum told Gov. Kim Reynolds at a morning “fair-side chat” that he wanted to try a “rattlesnake on a stick.”

The three candidates, as well as businessman Perry Johnson and Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, also had campaign events at the Iowa State Fair scheduled for Friday, meeting with Reynolds for a “fair-side chat” at JR’s SouthPork Ranch and speaking at the Register Political Soapbox.

In Thursday events, candidates talked with Iowans about issues from the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection to the investigation into Hunter Biden’s financial dealings. Some of the Iowans attending political events in the first two days of the Fair were weighing their options for the 2024 Republican caucuses — looking for alternatives to the frontrunner, former President Donald Trump.


Linda Sullivan of Johnston came to listen to Burgum’s speech at 8:30 a.m., saying she and her husband were interested in what he and other candidates like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott were saying. Sullivan said Trump was “wouldn’t be on my top list,” and that she was looking for another candidate to take on leading the Republican Party in 2024.

“I just want to get the best person that can get us out of this — in my words — mess, we’re kind of in, in our country,” Sullivan said. “And, yeah, just get back to common sense, like Kim said.”

Trump plans to attend the fair Saturday, but does not plan to speak at the soapbox or participate in a chat with Reynolds.

Here are some updates from the second day of Iowa’s 2023 Iowa State Fair:

4 months ago

Larry Elder calls for support to get to GOP debate stage

By: - 3:38 pm
Republican presidential candidate Larry Elder spoke to a crowd at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox Aug. 11, 2023. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Talk show host Larry Elder defended his spot as a “serious candidate” in the 2024 Republican presidential field Friday at the Iowa State Fair, while saying his role was to push other candidates on under-discussed issues.

“Did you think that Donald Trump would win in 2016 at some point? Did you think Joe Biden would the nominee in 2020 at some point?” Elder said. “… Honestly, things have a long way to go between now and the first vote was here in Iowa on January 15. And of longer way to go before the first vote in November in 2024. Anything could happen — trust me, it will happen. You have no idea what’s gonna happen. Do I believe I’m a serious candidate? Hell yes, I am.”

The former California gubernatorial candidate spoke to more than 60 people gathered at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox Friday afternoon. He shared his family story and described  policy proposals to address the “epidemic of fatherlessness,” tie federal spending to a set percentage of the national gross domestic product and to remove so-called “soft on crime” district attorneys from office in cities around the country.

Elder described himself as a “MAGA” and “America First” Republican. Though Elder did not point to reasons why he would be a better nominee than former President Donald Trump, he asked for Republicans to support him to put a bigger spotlight on the topics he is discussing.

“Even if they want somebody else, I’m trying to put these issues front and center,” he said. “So if I’m not the nominee, if Trump, for example, is a nominee, if Trump can begin talking about this, given the strength of his voice, given the strength of his megaphone … maybe something can be done.”

Elder said no other Republican candidates are talking about issues such as fatherhood or saying that America is not “systematically racist,” for fear of being called racist. He asked for donations and support from Iowa Republicans at the soapbox and during his Thursday “fair-side chat” with Gov. Kim Reynolds to help him qualify for the Republican debate in Milwaukee Aug. 23.

Elder said he was about 15,000 donors short of the Republican National Committee’s 40,000 threshold. He asked the crowd for support to get his message on the national stage even if they support another candidate for the Republican nomination.

“Do you think that’s a serious message to take to the American people as I’m campaigning, even if I’m not the nominee?” Elder said. “Hell yeah, it is. That’s why I’m doing this.”

4 months ago

Perry Johnson wants executive order to stop Ukraine spending

By: - 2:22 pm
Perry Johnson, atop the Des Moines Register’s soapbox, addresses a crowd of fairgoers on Aug. 11, 2023. (Photo by Jay Waagmeester/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Perry Johnson spent a large portion of his 20 minutes on the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox focused on federal debt and spending.

Defense spending, aid to Ukraine and federal departments were on Johnson’s list of cuts to make. 

“I spent my entire life bringing quality and efficiency to companies and now I want to bring it to the federal government,” Johnson said. 

Johnson is a businessman who focuses on efficiency and has founded several worldwide companies.

“I think it’s ridiculous that we are sending $113 billion to the Ukraine when we are going broke here,” Johnson said. 

“The single most important thing we have in the United States is defense,” Johnson said, addressing the Department of Defense’s need to have advanced technology, as well as the department’s failed audits

One audience member asked Johnson how he would be able to stop the U.S. from sending money to Ukraine.

“You noticed how Biden has all of the executive orders to send money over [to Ukraine]? You’re allowed to have an executive order to not fund it,” Johnson said. “… Let’s stop this craziness because sending $113 billion to the Ukraine, we don’t even know where the money is going. It’s nuts.”

Johnson also said he would get rid of the federal Department of Education if elected. 

Lowering the cost of running the government is part of Johnson’s agenda, but he also wants to address costs Americans are facing in their privates lives, too, he said. 

“The two major things that have gone up exponentially are college tuition and medical care and we need to address those issues,” Johnson, who just sent his eldest son to Michigan State, said.

Johnson said he would require colleges to freeze tuition cost and cut spending 2% each year to qualify for student loans if elected. 

“Part of the thing that’s going to happen when I enter office is I will try to privatize as many things as possible,” Johnson said. “You realize, when we privatize things we force competition, we force people to have better quality and better efficiency or they can’t survive.”

Johnson is hosting a concert Saturday featuring the band Big & Rich at the Lauridsen Amphitheater in Des Moines. He said his concert was originally just for his donors, but he has reached his goal of 40,000 donors to reach the debate stage in Milwaukee on Aug. 23.

Johnson still invited everyone to the concert, “I guess in theory you’re supposed to donate, but I do have 52,000 donors, I don’t need more.”

4 months ago

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez emphasizes national electability while aiming for debate stage

By: - 1:06 pm
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez listens to a question at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox during his trip to the Iowa State Fair Aug. 11, 2023. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez does not have the name recognition that some of his competitors for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination can boast, but he told Iowans he was uniquely able to draw certain groups of voters away from the Democratic Party.

“I have absolutely no doubt that I would be a impossible candidate for the Democrats to beat, because I attack three core constituencies that, if they were to lose, they will lose the election by a landslide,” Suarez said. “… If we could win Hispanics, if we could win urban voters — which I’ve done already, my community — and young voters, it’s game over. There isn’t a place in the United States where Democrats can win. I’ve already done that.”

The Republican mayor talked with Iowans in back-to-back stops at the Iowa State Fair, first speaking with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds for a “fair-side chat” before speaking to a group of 30 at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox.

In both talks, Suarez discussed his experience as a Cuban-American whose parents were “kicked out of their country of birth by a communist dictator.” He said his family history and experience as a Republican mayor in a major American city would make him a good choice to lead conservatives to victory in a national election.

However, Suarez has acknowledged that his bid for the Republican nomination hinges on gaining a higher national profile. In an interview with The Hill Tuesday, the candidate said making it onto the Milwaukee debate stage later this month was “critical” to his campaign, and that he may drop out of the race if he does not qualify for the Aug. 23 debate.

Candidates must have donations from a minimum of 40,000 individuals, as well as hit at least 1% in three national polls or a mix of national and early state polls between July 1 and Aug. 23. Currently, eight candidates have met these thresholds for the debate: former President Donald Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Trump, Pence and Christie have yet to sign the Republican National Committee’s pledge to back the eventual Republicans nominee regardless of who wins the contest also required to participate.

Suarez said that he is hoping the RNC offers some flexibility in the debate requirements because of some of the obstacles his campaign has encountered, “including not being included in at least a third of the polls that have been that have been put out.” Speaking with reporters after his soapbox speech, Suarez did not commit to dropping out if he does not qualify for the debate, but said he does believe candidates should not “linger around” if they do not have a credible shot at the nomination.

Getting a national platform would give his campaign the momentum needed to build toward that “credible” bid at the Republican nomination, he said.

“When you’re a relatively unknown candidate, you see the reaction that the crowd has and the people have when they listen to me, you know that if you’re given an opportunity to speak at a national level, that you’re gonna be able to connect and that you’re gonna be able to grow,” Suarez said. “So it’s kind of a chicken or an egg problem. And so we’re doing everything we can over the next 10 days to get there.”

Last updated: 4:52 pm

4 months ago

Pence expresses pride in ‘Trump-Pence administration’

By: - 12:32 pm
Mike Pence discussed his platform as well as his favorite state fair food with attendees to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ Fair Side Chats at the Iowa State Fair on Aug 11. (Photo by Jay Waagmeester/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Although it’s been a common topic during campaign trail appearances, Gov. Kim Reynolds did not ask former Vice President Mike Pence about Jan. 6 during her “fair-side chat” interview.

A fairgoer on Thursday accused Pence of treason for refusing on Jan. 6, 2021, to block certification of the 2020 election. Pence said he was upholding his oath to defend the Constitution.

Reynolds, however, kept the focus on lighter topics. She asked what he was proud of during his time in the White House, as well as his Christian faith, his childhood and America’s current “absent president.”

Pence said he will “always be proud of the Trump-Pence administration,” an appealing line to some Republicans.

Andrew Wallace, a 21-year-old from Wisconsin drove five hours to see Donald Trump on Saturday, but decided to arrive to Iowa a day early to see Pence. Wallace said Pence is running on an agenda similar to Trump’s, but said he does not like Pence “ripping on Trump.”

“I don’t like that, I don’t like that,” Wallace said. “Trump didn’t do anything to him, Trump did absolutely nothing to him.”

Wallace said of Pence, “He’s running a Trump campaign, just a different guy other than Trump.”

Regarding Medicare and Social Security, Pence said, “We’re not going to change anything, 40-years-old or older and nothing changing for you.” 

For those who are under 40, Pence said “I’d like to reform these New Deal programs and actually give you a better deal by making sure that Social Security and Medicare are actually there for you.”

The former vice president said the federal government has gotten too big. 

“Washington is not only too big and spends too much, but it does too much,” Pence said before he told the audience of about 100 that he would shut down the federal Department of Education if elected.

Reynolds followed up with a question about Linn-Mar schools and a federal lawsuit regarding gender transitioning, with which Pence has been involved.

“We have got to make it clear that parents don’t co-parent with government,” Pence said, receiving a round of applause. “Parents are in charge of their children’s education and we got to protect our kids from this radical gender ideology.”

Pence promised attendees that he would bring small town values to the White House.

“Iowa just feels like home,” Pence said. “I grew up in a small town… I can tell you, I just promise you, you give me the privilege to be your president, I’m going to fight for the values and the ideals and the integrity and the character of the people of Iowa and the heartland of this country.”

Last updated: 1:10 pm

4 months ago

Doug Burgum calls for action on U.S.-Mexico border

By: - 10:41 am
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum sat down with Gov. Kim Reynolds for a “fair-side chat” at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines Aug. 11, 2023. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum told Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds Friday about his recent trip to the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas, saying President Joe Biden’s administration was failing to support Border Patrol agents.

Both Burgum and Reynolds, Republican governors, have sent National Guard troops from their states at the request of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. The action comes following the end of Title 42, a measure that allowed the U.S. to turn away asylum-seekers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Burgum also made a trip to the border in Texas with North Dakota National Guard’s adjutant general on Monday and Tuesday, receiving a briefing from the more than 100 North Dakota National Guard troops on a yearlong deployment supporting U.S. Border Patrol agents in Texas.

In a “fair-side chat” with Reynolds Friday, Burgum said he saw the need during his trip for more federal support, and for more Border Patrol agents. There was not enough attention on the Biden administration’s border policies, he said, citing as an example an experience while he was being interviewed by national press in Texas.

“Over my shoulder, there was people wading across the Rio Grande, and I was getting questions about the swamp, and these indictments, while there’s people crossing the river behind us,” Burgum said.

The Biden administration asked Congress on Thursday for an additional $4 billion for border security.

Burgum linked the Biden administration’s handling of the U.S.-Mexico border with rising fentanyl overdose deaths, saying the U.S. was “taking mass casualties” by not stopping the flow of drugs over the southern border. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration found in 2020 that most fentanyl, produced in China and Mexico, was transported into the U.S. through legal ports of entry by U.S. citizens. Democrats have criticized Republicans for linking fentanyl trafficking with immigration.

The North Dakota Republican also said immigration along the U.S.-Mexico border was an issue of national security. He said cartels, transnational criminal organizations, were profiting off of people seeking transportation to the U.S. border, and that some of the people crossing the border could pose national security risks.

“This isn’t just like, ‘Oh, people are coming over from Mexico,'” Burgum said. Syrians, Iranians, North Koreans, Russians, Chinese — I mean, so we’ve got people on terrorist watch lists that are part of the group that are coming across the border right now.”

Burgum said there are roughly 20,000 Border Patrol agents currently working in the U.S. at both the northern and southern borders. He said he would reverse the Biden administration’s “dereliction of duty,” and put more federal resources behind border patrol.

“On a day one, if you give a group of law enforcement the support they need if you give them the technology, you give them the staffing you given the material, they’re going to be able to do the job when I was talking to Border Patrol people they said, Hey, we’ve done it before we’ve controlled the board before. Just give us a chance to do it.”


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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.