The Iowa State Fair, held in the capital of Des Moines from August 8-18, is a great place to get an ear of sweet corn, a pork chop on a stick and stump speeches from presidential candidates hoping to win their party’s nomination for the executive office.
Iowa is the first state to vote in presidential primaries, a series of state-by-state contests that begin the February before the general election and are designed to establish a feeling for the nation’s support for different candidates, whittling down their numbers until only a few remain. The candidate who will represent the party is then selected by party delegates at their national convention that summer.
Sputnik News’ Bob Schlehuber reported Friday from the fairgrounds, where he spoke with Andrew Yang, one of the Democratic hopefuls, and took in speeches by other candidates as well as the thoughts and opinions of local fairgoers.
Schlehuber told Radio Sputnik’s By Any Means Necessary hosts Eugene Puryear and Sean Blackmon that there was “a lot of attention here at the Des Moines Register’s ‘soapbox,’ a political soapbox where candidates from across the country can come and give a 20-minute speech, about … 400 people or so are watching the candidates as they talk.”
“Thus far today we’ve seen Julián Castro, the former HUD [House and Urban Development] secretary, followed by Andrew Yang, the tech entrepreneur, talk up well-received conversations. Castro had quite a bit about early childhood education, police accountability and reform, which is a little bit surprising to hear in a predominantly white state, and then Andrew Yang talked about automation and his ‘freedom dividends,’” Yang’s name for his universal basic income model for the US.
Former Vice President and 2020 presidential hopeful Joe Biden made waves at the fair on Thursday in the most undesirable way possible: with one of his characteristic gaffes. During his soapbox moment, the former Delaware senator conflated poverty with people of color, saying that “poor kids” are just as bright as “white kids.”
Biden in Iowa: “Poor kids are just as smart as white kids.”— Tania Singh (@TwinklingTania) August 9, 2019
“I also believe that Iowa farmers understand how badly this president has betrayed them. China has now basically stopped buying agricultural products from the United States. The farmers here, soybean farmers and other farmers, have lost contracts that may never come back, because this president has too big of an ego to actually try and figure out how we marshal support for what we want to do with China instead of this erratic, go-it-alone, haphazard trade war,” Castro told fairgoers Friday, tearing into US President Donald Trump’s trade policies.
“This haphazard trade war is costing jobs and costing farmers their livelihood here in Iowa, and they’re just watching it go by. And so I would tell the farmers: ‘This is not who you bargained for. This man is not who he said that he would be. He’s caused you to lose your livelihood; he’s costing you money out of your pocket right now and costing jobs. We can make a change; we can do something better so that we can improve your livelihood and also make sure that America comes out on top in the year ahead.”
Schlehuber said Castro’s message was received “quite well” by Iowans at the fair, noting that record rains followed by record droughts were bringing the issue of climate change to the forefront of Iowa farmers’ minds as well. Yang had some words about how his freedom dividend would try to address that loss of livelihood.
“The freedom dividend of $1,000 a month is like a foundation or a floor, and then the goal then is to try and build on top of it and solve some of the massive transitions. But the first thing we have to do is wake up to the fact that we’re in the biggest economic transition - transformation - in the history of the country. So it’s not just farmers and miners; it’s retail workers; it will soon be truck drivers; it’s call center workers. It blasted away 4 million manufacturing jobs over the last number of years; that’s, in my view, one of the main reasons why Donald Trump is our president today,” Yang told Sputnik. “We have to solve the problems that got Donald Trump elected.”
“The calculation Democrats have to figure out is how do they win back the votes that are in Wayne County, or Macomb or Genesee [Counties] in Michigan, where we were covering the debate last week,” Schlehuber said. “Democrats bled huge amounts of votes in urban areas in that state.”
“But here in Iowa, it’s a much different story. In Des Moines, where the Iowa State Fair is, Hillary Clinton was actually able to increase the total votes that Barack Obama received in 2008. Where she failed was in the 93 counties that Democrats lost [in 2016], 31 of which had voted for Obama twice, and then have flipped to Donald Trump,” Schlehuber said, noting that the fight in Iowa wasn’t for urban votes but “for those 500 to 2,000 votes in the smaller counties across the state. The Democrats have to figure out a way to speak to white rural voters in small cities and towns across Iowa, while at the same time find a message that also resonates with black voters in larger cities.”
“I’m not quite sure which candidates have found that,” he said, noting that people seem more passionate about Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren than they are about Biden, whose heavy reliance on the invocation of Obama’s legacy ignores the reality that even in the two elections Obama won, the Democratic Party was already hemorrhaging votes in Michigan.
Warren’s popularity will give her an edge as she tries to gather large numbers of volunteers to help her win thousands of small caucuses across the state in February 2020 that make it important in the presidential primaries.
Other candidates with more than 5% in the polls in Iowa are Biden, California Sen. Kamala Harris, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, all of whom Schlehuber predicted stand the best chance of the nearly two dozen candidates of winning the February caucus.
“Four in 10 Democrats in Iowa self-identify as socialists,” Schlehuber noted,” so this kind of notion that Iowa is this conservative, white, right-wing state - well sure, there’s elements of that within the Republican Party, but the Democratic Party, they barely delivered the state to Hillary Clinton, and they delivered it to Barack Obama … So it’s not just this conservative Iowa that people think about; it is a much more progressive state for Democrats to win in.”