Trump, DeSantis and more 2024 candidates pack Iowa State Fair

By: - August 12, 2023 10:30 am

Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis carries his daughter Madison while walking through the Iowa State Fair on August 12, 2023 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

The Republican frontrunners in the 2024 presidential race — former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — competed for attention Saturday on the packed Iowa State Fairgrounds along with a handful of other candidates.

Republicans Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy and Ryan Binkley also held events on the fairgrounds, while Democrats Marianne Williamson and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. worked to gather support for a challenge to President Joe Biden.

Former Vice President Mike Pence, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and former California gubernatorial candidate Larry Elder, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and businessman Perry Johnson also made stops to the Iowa State Fair Thursday and Friday.

Trump was planning to tour the fairgrounds with Florida endorsers while DeSantis planned to meet with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and spend his time with Iowa endorsers.

For Iowans like Patty Joliet of West Des Moines, the Iowa State Fair is an opportunity to hear from a wide variety of candidates in person as they weigh options leading up to the Iowa caucuses in 2024. Joliet said she enjoyed hearing from candidates at Reynolds’ “fair-side chats” series, and planned to spend her Saturday afternoon hearing from both Republican and Democratic 2024 hopefuls at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox.


“We haven’t made any commitments, but I want someone who … is presenting a better future for America for my children, my grandchildren, because what’s happening right now is unsustainable,” Joliet said.

The fair is also an opportunity for viral moments: Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy started out the morning rapping “Lose Yourself” by Eminem. As candidates made their Fair rounds Saturday morning, a plane flew overhead with “Be likeable, Ron!” on a banner flying behind it.

Here’s the latest from day three at the state fair:

4 months ago

Nikki Haley disputes that she opposes gay marriage

By: - 6:10 pm

Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley told a question-asker at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox Saturday they were misinformed by Google for believing she was against gay marriage.

Former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley spoke at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox at the Iowa State Fair Aug. 12, 2023. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

“Get your news from somewhere else,” Haley said. “This is what I’ll tell you: People should live the way they want to live. I believe in freedom. I believe in making sure that people can live the way they want to live, and I believe the government needs to stay out of the way.”

Haley took questions from the crowd of more than 200 after her soapbox speech. While Haley said she supported “freedom” with regard to same-sex marriage, she said she does not support transgender women student athletes competing in women’s sports, and does not support transgender women using women’s locker rooms.

She said that “our daughters” should not have to “figure out how to deal with” transgender women in women’s locker rooms.

“We need to be focusing on the fact that strong girls become strong women, strong women become strong leaders,” Haley said. “That’s where my focus is and biological boys in our locker rooms doesn’t make strong girls. I always fight for our girls.”

Haley’s visit to the fair coincided with former President Donald Trump’s, in whose administration she served. Answering questions from reporters after her soapbox speech, Haley said the media were “Trump-obsessed,” and people she has been talking to in Iowa and New Hampshire are focused on issues like the economy and education.

Both Haley and Trump have met the polling and donation requirements for the Republican debate in Milwaukee, scheduled for Aug. 23. The former president has not yet committed to attending, and has not signed the pledge requiring participants to support the eventual 2024 Republican nominee, regardless of who it is.

The former South Carolina governor said she believes all candidates should sign the Republican National Committee’s pledge, saying “any one of the candidates are better than a President Kamala Harris,” but said it’s up to Trump to decide whether or not to participate in the debate.

“I think President Trump, it’s his decision whether he wants to get on the debate stage or not,” Haley said. “You have to earn that support of the American people. It’s hard to earn their support if you’re absent.”

4 months ago

Former President Donald Trump targets DeSantis at Iowa State Fair stop

By: - 2:59 pm
Former U.S. President Donald Trump acknowledges supporters as the visits the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 12, 2023 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Former President Donald Trump called out rival Ron DeSantis when speaking to reporters at the fair, comparing his “record crowd” to the audience that gathered to see the Florida governor’s events.

“He had a very small crowd,” Trump said. “He only had a few people show up. It’s a big difference.”

Trump was a major attraction, to the point that the Iowa State Fairgrounds Grand Concourse was partially blocked by a crowd waiting for entrance into the Steer N Stein building Saturday afternoon as people waited to see him.

DeSantis attracted a smaller crowd that still numbered hundreds of people earlier Saturday for a “fair-side chat” with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds.

The former president, who currently leads in the race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, came to the fair alongside a group of supporters from Florida — U.S. Reps. Gus Bilirakis, Byron Donalds, Matt Gaetz, Carlos Gimenez, Brian Mast, Cory Mills, Anna Paulina Luna, Greg Steube and Mike Waltz. The delegation was seen as a jab at DeSantis, the Florida governor.

Former acting attorney general in the Trump administration, Iowan Matt Whitaker, also joined the group.

Trump gave some brief remarks at the Steer N Stein but did not make the state fair campaign stops with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox that most other presidential candidates have scheduled.

He stopped at the Iowa Pork Tent shortly after arriving at the fair, talking with the people volunteering at the grill, signing hats and signs. The crowd of hundreds, gathered around the pork tent to catch a glimpse of Trump, cheered when he held up a pork chop on a stick.

Sarah Lee, a Webster County resident, waited outside the tent in hopes of taking a picture of the former president. Lee said she was planning to support Trump in the Iowa caucuses. While she said she did not enjoy some of Trump’s habits of criticizing other Republicans, she believed Trump was still the most likely Republican candidate to win the general election and enact conservative policies in 2024.

“He doesn’t have anything to prove, because he already has. He has already delivered,” Lee said. “So, I like what some of these other guys are saying, but we already have someone who was the president and proved that, you know, that he’s actually going to do what he says.”

Hundreds of people also lined up around the entrance and back of the Steer N Stein building in hopes of seeing Trump as he and his Florida surrogates spoke. Campaign volunteers handed out “Farmers for Trump” hats to those gathered.

After his Steer N Stein appearance, Trump exited the state fair by motorcade, with plans to hold an event with some Iowa volunteers before leaving the state on his private plane.

4 months ago

Ryan Binkley calls for a ‘love your neighbor movement’

By: - 1:12 pm
Ryan Binkley took to the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox to talk about a national revival on Aug. 12. (Photo by Jay Waagmeester/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Texas pastor and businessman Ryan Binkley called Saturday for creating a stronger Christian culture in America. 

“We need to have a love your neighbor movement that changes the hatred, changes the division, meets the needs of the most hurting,” Binkley said at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox. 

“God has a plan for our country, we are in a broken place,” Binkley said. “There’s no way out except for God. No way out. It’s going to take us doing the right things the right way, treating each other with kindness and love, but truth.”

Binkley, lead pastor and co-founder of Create Church in Texas and CEO of a business consultancy firm, mixed religion with discussion of health care policy and federal finances.

“It’s about time that we the people took back our country and save the next generation,” Binkley said. “We can’t do it if we don’t solve the health care crisis.”

Binkley said as president he would transform health care, “I’m going to bring the first ever Republican-led transformed health care policy to the table by demonopolizing health care,” he said.

The businessman said balancing the budget is the most important economic issue. His website lists his goals for “tackling the debt” as creating a balanced budget and by cutting waste and fraud. 

Binkley said defunding every organization, including the Department of Education, is not his strategy. Instead, he suggested agencies be trimmed back and require a leadership change. Binkley’s reasoning for not eliminating the federal Department of Education was to keep influence in “severe blue states” like California and New York. 

Binkley said his agenda for the U.S.-Mexico border goes beyond a partisan strategy. 

“This [the southern border] is the most polarizing thing in America today. This will not happen with just Republican control,” Binkley said. “This is about us doing a permanent 50-year change that actually brings border security not just in Texas, but from coast to coast from the Pacific coast to the Gulf Coast. Because if we don’t fix this, a guy named Gavin Newsom in California will say ‘Hey, everybody, welcome come through here,’ so it’s got to be a bipartisan plan.”

4 months ago

Protesters, Trump supporters follow Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis

By: - 11:56 am

As a plane flew overhead trailing a banner printed with “Be likeable, Ron,” protesters tried to drown out Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ talk with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds.

Iowa State Patrol officers talk with protesters at Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Iowa State Fair event Aug. 12, 2023. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Some of the protesters, who were yelling, blowing whistles and hitting cowbells, were escorted away from the “fair-side chat” by Iowa State Patrol officers after a skirmish broke out. Reynolds had called for the crowd to stay “Iowa nice” during the “fair-side chat,” but was ignored.

“You know what? We’re in Iowa, we’re Iowa nice, so let’s give everyone the opportunity to hear every candidate,” Reynolds said.

The Florida governor, a frontrunner in the 2024 Republican presidential race, stuck to his campaign points despite the noise. He bantered with Reynolds about their race to complete a 99-county tour of Iowa, and said his family’s favorite fair food is fried Oreos.

“I haven’t had anything yet today,” DeSantis said. “They tell me you have to be careful about being photographed eating something, so, maybe I’ll have the pork.”

After his speech, DeSantis went to the Iowa Pork Producers’ tent to flip pork chops, where he was met with Trump supporters chanting “We love Trump!” and DeSantis supporters countered with “U. S. A.” chants. DeSantis was joined by Reynolds and Iowa Republicans U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst and Rep. Zach Nunn at the grill.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis shows a mug he gave to Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds at the Iowa State Fair Aug. 12, 2023. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

In his talk with Reynolds, DeSantis talked about his commitment to “parental rights,” highlighting the “Mamas for DeSantis” campaign spearheaded by his wife, Casey DeSantis, his support for school choice and criticism of “indoctrination” in schools on topics like LGBTQ+ issues.

“That’s why Biden says things like, ‘they’re not your kids,’ quote, ‘they’re all of our kids,’ no,” DeSantis said. “They’re not your kids Joe, I’m sorry.”

Mary Hamiel, a Republican from Mason City, said she was happy to see DeSantis — her top pick for the 2024 Iowa caucuses — at the State Fair, though she was interested in trying to see former President Donald Trump on his stop as well. She said she was not bothered by how protesters and supporters of other candidates act toward DeSantis, and was glad to see him on the campaign trail.

“It’s okay, that’s just part of people, the way they act,” Hamiel said. “You’ll get them anywhere. I’m just happy he’s here and I get to see him.”

Last updated: 11:57 am

4 months ago

Haley: America needs a ‘new generational’ leader

By: - 11:28 am
Nikki Haley talks with Gov. Kim Reynolds during her “fair side chats” Aug. 12. (Photo by Jay Waagmeester/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Nikki Haley called for new leadership and criticized congressional Republicans during a “fair-side chat” with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds.

“It is time for a new generational leader,” Haley said after pointing out the Republican presidential candidate has lost the popular vote in seven of eight previous elections. “That is nothing to be proud of.”

“It is time that we leave the negativity behind, the drama behind and we focus on real solutions,” Haley said.

Haley, of South Carolina, like Reynolds, was the first female governor in her state. Haley later served in the Trump administration as ambassador to the United Nations.

Haley called attendees to action, “Don’t complain about what happens in the general election if you don’t play in this caucus.”

Haley criticized Republicans as well as Democrats in Congress for excessive spending, and said she would veto a budget that was not below pre-COVID spending levels.

“Look, we are $32 trillion in debt,” Haley said. “We’re having to borrow money just to make our interest payments. China owned some of that debt. And I would love to tell you that Biden did that. But I’ve always spoken in hard truths, our Republicans did that to us, too.”

Haley criticized the $2.2 trillion COVID stimulus bill and blamed it for expanding the welfare rolls.

“And did Republicans try and make it right?” Haley asked. “No, they doubled down and opened up earmarks for the first time in 10 years.”

GOP leaders recently requested more than $10 billion in earmark funding. Haley criticized her fellow Republicans and said she would put an end to earmarks if elected. After the critique of her party, a man in the crowd grumbled, “Then why are you a Republican?” Haley did not seem to have heard the question.

Last updated: 11:57 am

4 months ago

Vivek Ramaswamy performs a rap song, calls for revival of national identity

By: - 10:30 am
Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy participated in a “fair-side chat” with Gov. Kim Reynolds at the Iowa State Fair Aug. 12, 2023. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy started with an early morning Saturday at the Iowa State Fair, ending his talk with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds with an impromptu performance of “Lose Yourself” by Eminem.

Hundreds gathered for the 2024 Republican candidate’s interview with Reynolds, the first of her “fair-side chats” of the day. When the governor asked what his favorite walk-out song was, he responded that it was  “‘Lose Yourself,’ to be honest with you,” as the crowd laughed and cheered.

“I am really starting to understand my age, wow,” Reynolds said. “I’m gonna have to go look it up.”

The candidate had the chance to show how much he loved the song after his talk, rapping along to the Detroit rapper’s song when it was put on following his interview.

In his talk with Reynolds, Ramaswamy called for a revival of patriotism, saying that younger people are “hungry to believe in something bigger than ourselves.”

“And I said, it’s sitting right here right in front of us. It’s that flag on this gentleman’s shirt and his hat right here: It’s the United States of America,” Ramaswamy said. “It’s the greatest nation known to mankind. If we can revive pride in that country, I think our national problems start melting away right there.”

The candidate did not bring up his proposal to raise the voting age to 25 — with the allowance to grant 18-year-olds voting rights for public service or passing a civics test– but he did say that American civics education needs to be improved. He said Americans need to reframe their understanding of citizenship from asking what are the “privileges of citizenship” to asking “what are our duties as citizens.”

Ramaswamy cited a survey from the Reboot Foundation, an organization advocating for social media restrictions for minors under age 16, that found nearly 60% of young adults with TikTok accounts would give up their voting rights for one year if forced to choose between access to voting and the social media. The presidential candidate said that this happens because “young people don’t value a country they’re taught to hate.”

He said his two sons were at the fair. “When I will take over office, I want to look my two sons in the eye and know they live in a country where they and their generation are once again proud to be citizens of this nation. I believe that is possible, but it’s going to require each of us doing our part.”


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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.