(LNation) – It’s on in Iowa: The much-anticipated backdrop of potential caucus voters has candidates far and wide descending on the biggest event of the year for the Hawkeye State. The fair in Des Moines is one of those “can’t miss” opportunities as hopefuls get grip-and-grin time and the chance to be interviewed and have issues dissected and published by the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox. It’s a tried-and-true formula that will advise the electorate where each presidential hopeful stands heading into the primary.
Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds added a new twist to the tradition by offering another opportunity for the lesser-knowns to get their messages out. A brilliant spin-off of Roosevelt: Fair-Side Chats for GOP candidates. Reynolds announced in July the “Chats” would lend itself to an “incredible opportunity [for candidates] to share their message directly with Iowans. With just six months to go until the Iowa Caucus, it’s crunch time!” Reynolds said.
Larry Elder, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, and former Vice President Mike Pence started the campaigning frenzy at the fair on Thursday. Perry Johnson wandered through exhibits and the midway, informally introducing his candidacy the folksy, old-fashioned way, minus the pomp and circumstance. But Pence trumped the early competitors, quipping: “I’m a small-town guy from southern Indiana. This is my strike zone. Being in the livestock barn, going to the pork tent. I mean, this is a home-court advantage for me.”
“I had no right to overturn the election,” Pence told the Register. “And the American people deserve to know that the president asked me to choose him over keeping my oath to the Constitution, but I chose the Constitution, and I always will.” But does Pence’s commitment engage the Iowa voter?
When Saturday rolled around, both former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis descended from the skies, and fairgoers braced for impact.
Trump’s entourage was made up of members of Congress from Florida: Reps. Gus Bilirakis, Byron Donalds, Matt Gaetz, Carlos Gimenez, Brian Mast, Cory Mills, Anna Paulina Luna, Greg Steube, and Mike Waltz. They all endorsed Trump over their own governor. To pour additional salt in the wound, number 45 did a low flyover of the fairgrounds where DeSantis was flipping burgers. The crowd erupted with “We want Trump.” And just before the sit-down with Reynolds, another plane flew low, pulling a message that read: “Be likable, Ron!”
But DeSantis did not blink. He rallied Ted Cruz’s winning 2016 team as his “take that” moment, of course, highlighting the fact that he has the most endorsements from Iowa state lawmakers: One apparent supporter is the cagy Iowa governor, Kim Reynolds, who has not publicly vowed to support either candidate but has been seen fairly often with her pal and colleague from Florida, Ron.
DeSantis sat in for one of the massively attended Fair Side Chats with Reynolds. The Florida governor began, saying, “When I want to do Midwestern Nice in Florida, I just go to Fort Myers in January.”
A bit of a scuffle followed by a few derogatory shouts, which had Reynolds admonishing: “Hey, you know what? We’re in Iowa and in Iowa, we are Iowa nice.” But both congratulated one another on their states’ handling of COVID-19, the attacks from the media, and the economy. DeSantis gave his campaign speech, hitting the high points. He talked about getting the military back to being assertive and respected, which got a cheerleader-style “Woot” out of his pal Kim. No stone in Iowa was left unturned between the two governors, nor were county and constituencies ignored.
But then there was the Donald. There was to be no sit-down with Reynolds, who he believes had cozied up to DeSantis for a chat. The crowds were massive. The chants were “USA, USA,” and, wearing a suit, he paraded about with a colorful midway as his backdrop. After introducing half of Florida, Trump said, “This is a trip of Love. And we see this wherever we go.” But he also reiterated, “The election was rigged.” His raucous crowd hung on every word. But what Trump did that particularly stood out was intertwining Iowans and his entourage into the address, allowing others to double down on his message of taking back the country.
Prior to the visit to the state fair, Trump stopped in at the local restaurant, the Steer-N-Stein, with a message to the faithful: “Stay strong. We are going to win big,” he said. “We are going to Make America Great Again.” His followers, including a stronghold of GenZ voters, greeted him on the tarmac and followed along with the motorcade.
Thirteen candidates, including Democrats Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Marianne Williamson, and one Libertarian, Chase Oliver, are on deck for the Political Soapbox on the Grand Concourse. Despite the jockeying for position, the finger-pointing, and insults, the Iowa State Fair never disappoints those seeking the highest office in the land. The people are friendly, ask good questions, give needed feedback, and share their elephant ears with pride. Iowa was nothing if not nice.