Bernie Sanders returns to the stage
DES MOINES — The Iowa State Fair is famous for a lot of things: fried delicacies, a cow sculpted in butter, lots of food on a stick and, of course, visits from politicians.
The Des Moines Register Political Soapbox kicked off at the fair on Thursday and will host more than 20 candidates running for president throughout the weekend.
Follow full coverage from the Des Moines Register, part of the USA TODAY Network, at DesMoinesRegister.com/Soapbox.
Billionaire and Democratic activist Tom Steyer told Iowa fairgoers he’s running for president for one reason: taking on the influence of corporations in national politics.
“We have to break the corporate stranglehold on our democracy if we’re going to get any of the things the American people want,” he said.
Steyer, the founder of the Need to Impeach initiative, told fairgoers he wanted to talk more about his vision for the country than about President Donald Trump. But asked by an audience member about how he would help Iowa farmers, he said he would “love” to be the one who takes Trump on.
“You want someone to take on this president and call him out for what he is, which is a fake?” he said. “Love to do it. Because he’s not scary. He’s incompetent.”
Republican Bill Weld took issue with President Trump on issues like the national deficit and climate change Sunday, calling him a “RINO,” or a “Republican in name only.”
Weld, a two-term former governor from Massachusetts, announced in April he would run for president.
“He’s not a fiscal conservative,” Weld said. “… He doesn’t believe in free trade. He doesn’t believe in all the things the real Republican Party used to stand for. So I’m unapologetic about challenging him here, because I don’t think he’s a real Republican.”
Weld spoke from beneath a canopy on the Soapbox stage as rain fell. About 75 people gathered to hear him speak, peppering him with questions about an assault weapons, medical marijuana and the treatment of veterans. Weld said he’s on “the Libertarian side” of the Republican Party.
The New Jersey senator centered much his pitch to Iowa voters on civil rights and the nation’s history of working together to overcome our nation’s biggest hurdles.
“We are Americans, not defined by our race or our religion, but our common commitment to the best of human ideals,” he said. “We are one people with one destiny. We are one people with one cause. And now more than ever in our nation, we have to get back to that ideal.”
Booker talked to Iowans about the hatred in the country, including that which spurred a two recent mass shootings, but also of everything that brings us together. He focused on the need to change gun laws, economic equality and healthcare.
“This is a moral moment in America,” he said. “Regardless of what your party is, there are forces every day trying to tear this country apart.”
The Massachusetts senator drew one of the largest crowds with her vision for the country, offering plans for everything to create “big structural change.”
She told Iowans that nearly every issue that they are passionate about, whether it’s healthcare, education, or gun control, it all leads back to money in politics. “Our chance in 2020 is to fight back against the corruption, to make our government work for us,” she said.
She made her case on taxing the wealthy, explaining her 2% tax would target those who make more than $50 million and give an opportunity for those who are struggling to also have a chance.
Warren boiled it down to the message she has for the wealthy, “Great, you built a fortune here in America, I guarantee you, you built it in part” on the backs of others. “You make it that big, pitch in 2 cents so everybody else in this country gets to make it.”
The former Colorado governor didn’t downplay the difficult path Democrats are in for in their quest to defeat Trump. But, he said, a governor — or former governor — would have the best shot.
“We have never defeated an incumbent president with a sitting senator, with any senator. It has always been governors or former governors,” he said, placing his hand on his chest. “That’s because governors have to make the final decision, the bucks stops on our desk.”
Hickenlooper focused on his time as the top politician in Colorado, boasting about the gun laws that his state passed.
“I’m the one person running who has actually done what everyone else is only talking about,” he said.
The New York senator used her 20 minutes on the stage to explain her history of overcoming hurdles.
Throughout her speech, she offered anecdotes focused on how things are always possible, comparing the races she’s won previously to that of the battle against President Donald Trump.
“Yes, I can beat Trump,” she said. “It is not impossible.”
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Gillibrand highlighted her time in the Senate and the legislation she’s helped push through, including the recent 9/11 bill that made compensation for 9/11 first responders permanent.
“You tell me something’s impossible, I get it done,” she told the crowd. “And I’ve done it my whole life.”
The former congressman from Pennsylvania’s speech was likely his introduction to many voters.
A Navy veteran who entered the race in June and is polling at less than 1 percent, Sestak boasted about his career in the military and told Iowans the story of his daughter, who battled brain cancer and has since beaten it.
He said her battle was the deciding factor that made him switch from a Republican to a Democrat in 2009 as he realized the importance of a strong health care plan and the importance of “health security.”
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“She beat that demon and I need to become accountable to you,” he said. “The citizens of this nation gave us, my wife and I, a health care plan that saved our daughter’s life.”
The Minnesota senator touted her Midwestern values to connect with Iowans in her Soapbox speech, dubbing herself as the candidate who can beat Trump.
“My track record is of getting things done,” the Democrat told voters about her time in the Senate. “I have won every place, every race, every time.”
Klobuchar said with a chuckle that her winning streak goes back to elementary school, where her slogan was “All the way with Amy K.” She highlighted agriculture, health care and a need for increased mental health services, including in Iowa where she said there weren’t enough beds for patients.
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“We cannot do any of this if we do not win,” Klobuchar said, calling Iowa the “voice of the heartland” and explaining that all “change starts right here.”
The Ohio representative used his 20 minutes on stage to help Iowans get to know him and his vision for the nation.
“You may not know who I am,” he told the crowd, offering details about his past as a football player and member of Congress.
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Ryan applauded the efforts by farmers throughout Iowa who have taken on new procedures to mitigate the negative effects on the environment, including the use of cover crops. He offered a moderate approach to health care and immigration, blasting Medicare for All because it would eliminate private insurance and ideas that would decriminalize the act of unlawfully crossing the southern U.S. border.
Ryan said he did not want the Democratic party to be “defined” by the “right-wing echo chamber” that has labeled them socialists.
The California senator targeted Trump throughout her speech, appealing to the things, she says, keeps Iowans and those across the country “up at night.”
Attracting a large crowd, she touched on health care, climate change, gun laws and foreign policy, telling Iowans that this election is about asking “who are we” as a nation.
Because, she said, “I think we all know we are better than this.”
“This is a fight that is not only for the soul for our country,” Harris said. “This is a fight born out of love of country. And this, therefore, is a fight we will win.”
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The Washington governor focused much of his 20 minutes on stage on the issue he hopes will set him apart in the race: climate change.
He talked about the wind turbines that can be spotted in fields across Iowa (and even at the fair) and a future of clean energy that he says could create a “new economy.”
“We’ve got to do something about the climate crisis,” he said, noting Iowa is one of the leaders when it comes to embracing clean energy through solar power and wind turbines.
Inslee also told stories he’s heard from voters across the nation in states that have been hit hard by floods and fires. But, climate change wasn’t the only thing he was worried about. He offered his visions for combating gun violence, enhancing childcare and reforming the nation’s immigration system.
“I’m not a one-trick pony,” he said.
The former secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Obama pitched his vision for the country by highlighting his family’s story of the American dream, starting with his grandmother moving to Texas from Mexico as an orphan in the 1920s.
He emphasized the need to increase the minimum wage, to combat climate change, expand Medicare coverage and reform immigration laws.
“All of this is possible, but before that, we need new leadership,” he told Iowa voters.
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After his speech, Castro was asked by someone in the audience why he was not in El Paso like Beto O’Rouke, a fellow Texan who is also running for president.
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Castro said “we thought about that” but “we didn’t want to go there just to go there.” Castro noted, unlike O’Rourke, he is not from the community.
“I don’t think what they need is more presidential candidates,” he said. Castro said what those in El Paso need is the Senate to come back to work and pass gun-control measures to prevent another massacre.
The entrepreneur offered a technological path forward to improving America, highlighting his trademark policy that would offer each citizen $1,000 a month.
He called for an “industrial revolution” and highlighted the technological advances in Iowa that are bringing the country forward with new sources of energy, including solar and wind energy.
“This is the ideal, the optimal place to create a wave and bring it crashing down on D.C.’s head. You do not need that many Iowans to start a revolution,” he said, saying he did the math and each Iowan is worth 1,000 Californians.
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Yang said he would turn Tax Day into a holiday featuring celebrities and parties, explaining the IRS knows the basic income of each American and should auto-fill forms so taxes are seamless.
“I would turn tax day into revenue day. I would make it a national holiday,” he said.
The former Maryland representative offered his “pragmatic” path to improving America, hitting other Democratic candidates on the big ideas he says they promote without a path to fulfilling or paying for them.
“I have big ideas but they’re ideas that can actually get done,” he said, echoing the argument he offered at the last Democratic debate against 2020 rivals Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.
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Delaney offered two big reasons why Iowans should vote for him throughout his 20 minutes on stage: He’s the person who can beat Trump and he’s the person who can unite the country and remind Americans that “we’re all in this together.”
“It’s not about me, it’s about you,” he said.
The author and activist offered her solutions to the issues in America through her trademark lense of love and understanding.
Williamson told the crowd that politics at this moment is not “aligned with the deep goodness” in the nation, saying her fight is not against any specific person or corruption but the current system in place.
“I am not prosecuting a case against Donald Trump, I am prosecuting a case against the system that produced him,” she said.
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She told the crowd that “we can’t just fight hate, you have to cultivate love” and said it’s not just about changing policies, but behaviors.
“I’ve heard that I’m dangerous. I’ve heard that I’m crazy. I’ve heard that I’m a drifter. Please know that there are powerful forces that don’t want me to be in the third debate,” she told Iowans. “I’m running for president because it’s time for this generation of Americans to slam it and kick ass.”
The Hawaii Representative touted her service in the military and her belief of “country before self,” telling Iowa voters that the central issue that could solve many of America’s problems is foreign policy and the cost of war.
“Every time they tell you, ‘Sorry, there’s just not enough money,’ the reality is, these same politicians are signing off on and approving spending trillions of our taxpayer dollars on paying for these wasteful, counterproductive wars,” Gabbard said.
She offered a future where Americans could come together, because “when we work together, there is no obstacle we can’t overcome.”
“Imagine how much we could do,” she said, “if leaders in Washington took off their political hats and just said ‘hey, let’s sit around the table and work it out.'”
The Montana governor made his pitch to Iowa voters by saying “we expect more from our preschoolers” than President Donald Trump.
Throughout his 20-minutes on the stage, he made the case that this election isn’t just about swaying people to vote against Trump, but giving people a reason to vote for Democrats.
“I want to earn your support,” Bullock said, noting that his polling numbers put him far behind many of his Democratic colleagues in the state. “We are 178 days from you all taking a big field and throwing it in Harry Potter’s sorting hat and narrowing it down.”
Bullock highlighted his healthcare policy, which allows a public option, and some of the issues that have been affecting farmers in the state: the ongoing trade war and agricultural policies to fight climate change.
“Yeah this election is about Donald Trump,” he said, “but it’s also about making sure what we hand out to that next generation is better than what we had.”
The former vice president honed in on some of the most central aspects of his campaign while on the stage: his experience in the White House and uniting the country again.
“It’s time to remember who in God’s name we are. This is the United States of America,” Biden told the crowd, who roared to life with applause. “There’s nothing we’ve ever decided to do, we’ve been unable to do. Period.”
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He boasted his experience on the world stage, saying he’d worked with other world leaders and that his first move as president would be to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord, the agreement with nations across the globe to combat climate change.
“Everybody knows who Donald Trump is, he and his supporters know who he is,” Biden said. “We got to let them know who we are.”