Democratic challengers to President Joe Biden speak at Iowa State Fair

By: and - August 12, 2023 8:00 pm

Marianne Williamson fields questions from reporters after stepping off the soapbox on Aug. 12. (Jay Waagmeester/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

While much of the political attention at the Iowa State Fair was focused on the Republican 2024 presidential contenders, two Democratic challengers to President Joe Biden also took the stage Saturday at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox.

Democrats Marianne Williamson and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who are running for the 2024 Democratic presidential nomination, spoke to crowds at the fairgrounds in Des Moines. The two Democrats spent time talking about corporate influence on politicians and the American government as a whole and “legalized bribery” through campaign finances.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. takes the stage at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox Aug. 12. (Jay Waagmeester/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Iowa Democratic leaders have said that all candidates are welcome in Iowa, but Iowa Democratic Chair Rita Hart spoke Thursday in support of Biden. She said she was concerned about the “anti-semitic” comments Kennedy had made, referencing the candidate talking in July about the idea that the COVID-19 virus had been genetically engineered and “ethnically targeted” causing a disparity between infections in Caucasian and Black populations and in Ashkenazi Jewish and Chinese populations.

“Iowa is very proud of this tradition of the State Fair and and be welcoming to all,” Hart told reporters at the fair Thursday. “And so, yeah, we’re — we know that Marianne and Robert Kennedy Jr. will probably be attending, and that’s okay.”

Ryan Gustafson from Minnesota, who described himself as a “fiscal conservative and leans to the right,” said Kennedy was “right on,” about some of his talking points, including subsidies for large corporations. “It was good to see a politician actually admit to it,” Gustafson said.

Gustafson sees Kennedy as a potentially viable candidate, “He’s more toward the center of the line, versus you have so far to the left right now, so far to the right on the other side that it is nice to see somebody a little bit more central.”

Another attendee, Sheila Bright from Ames said Kennedy should switch to the Republican Party.

A New York Times/Siena College poll conducted in late July found Biden leading the Democratic primary field with 64%, followed by Kennedy at 13% and Williamson at 10%.

Iowa plays an important role for Republicans in the 2024 presidential nomination cycle, with the first-in-the-nation caucuses set for Jan. 15, but the future of Iowa’s Democratic caucuses is still unclear. The Democratic National Committee voted to strip Iowa of its early state position earlier in 2023, but the DNC’s new proposed calendar has hit some snags. Neither New Hampshire nor Georgia is able to comply with the proposed schedule.

Hart has previously said Iowa Democrats plan to hold the 2024 Iowa Democratic caucuses on the same date as the Iowa Republicans, but did not commit to holding the 2024 contest on Jan. 15 in 2024 when asked earlier this month.

“I particularly have been talking to our Black leadership all across the state, in hopes that we can continue with that, but, we’ll — we’ll continue to have those conversations and we’ll find out where we’re at,” Hart said.

This article first appeared in the Iowa Capital Dispatch, a sister site of the Nebraska Examiner in the States Newsroom network.

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. Robin has experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald, in addition to working on multimedia projects, newsletters and visualizations. They were a political reporter for the Des Moines Register covering the Iowa caucuses leading up to the 2020 presidential election, assisting with the Register's Iowa Poll, and reporting on Iowa's 4th District elections.

Jay Waagemeester
Jay Waagemeester

Jay Waagemeester is an intern for the Iowa Capital Dispatch based in Ames, Iowa, and is currently a senior majoring in journalism and marketing at Iowa State University. He has interned at New Century Press and contributed to the Iowa State Daily.