Democratic challengers to President Joe Biden speak at Iowa State Fair

Democrats Marianne Williamson and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. share concerns about corporate influence on politicians and and ‘legalized bribery’ through campaign finances.

By: and - August 13, 2023 9:35 pm

Marianne Williamson fields questions from reporters after stepping off the soapbox on Aug. 12. (Photo by 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.

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.

Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson speaks at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox on Aug. 12, 2023. (Photo by Jay Waagmeester/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Marianne Williamson calls for an end to ‘corporate dominance’

Author and former spiritual leader Marianne Williamson threw an elbow at the Democratic National Committee while speaking Saturday at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox.

“We need the American people, particularly the Democrats among us, to become independent enough thinking that we are not just living with this codependent acquiescence to whatever the DNC says,” Williamson said.

She criticized “corporate dominance,” which she called “soulless,” and said trickle-down economics has turned Washington into a system of “legalized bribery.”

She called for tuition free college, universal health care and higher wages.

Williamson said Democrats must show up in 2024.

“As a Democrat, I’m not worried of Donald Trump,” Williamson said. “Donald Trump is doing his thing, God bless you. I’m not worried about people voting for Donald Trump in 2024. What the danger is to the Democrats in 2024 is how many people might stay home.”

Williamson said those with power do not listen to problem solvers, and her White House would look different. “When I think in my mind of what a Williamson administration would look like, this is the image I get: I open to doors of the Oval Office and I say to the problem solvers, ‘come on in, we’ve got it for four years.’”

Williamson told fairgoers she is not the greatest visionary running. “Do I think I am the greatest visionary running in America? No, I don’t think I am the greatest visionary running in America but I think I am the only visionary running for the Democratic nomination for president.”

A few members in the crowd said they were attending to save a seat for Democratic rival Robert F. Kennedy, who was taking the stage later, and a few passersby shouted, “Let’s go Trump.”

Williamson did not take questions from attendees during her 20-minute soapbox stand.

Williamson endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2020 after dropping out of the race herself.

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

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. vows to stop carbon pipelines if elected

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., known for his work as an author and environmental lawyer and his famous family, drew a crowd that extended well out of the seating area of the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox.

Kennedy said he wants to follow the principle of his uncle, former President John F. Kennedy, in that he wants to avoid going to war and instead keep peace. But he was aggressive in his remarks against carbon pipelines. He accused Republican supporters of the projects of being influenced by campaign donations.

The carbon pipelines, which Kennedy called “the biggest boondoggle of all,” have created controversy over property rights in Iowa and across the Midwest.

Kennedy made several comments about the influence of Bruce Rastetter, founder of Summit Carbon Solutions, a carbon pipeline company.

Kennedy said the Iowa Utilities Board is responsible for deciding whether the carbon pipeline is built, and that the board is appointed by the governor, who he says accepted $163,000 in campaign donations from Rastetter.

Kennedy said campaign contributions are bribery.

“This is a private profit-making purpose,” Kennedy said. “And the only way they are getting away with this is by getting away with legalized bribery.”

There is irony in some Iowa Republicans supporting carbon pipelines, Kennedy said.

“All the Republicans in this state who are supporting this and who have taken money from Mr. Bruce don’t believe in climate change,” Kennedy said. “So why are they supporting this pipeline?”

Kennedy also commented on the dangers of the carbon pipelines, which are meant to combat climate change.

“When I get into the White House, I will put an end to this and the pipeline will never be built,” Kennedy said as he left the stage.

Although Kennedy drew a large crowd, he did not take questions from attendees.

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: [email protected]. Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

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.

Jay Waagmeester
Jay Waagmeester

Jay is an intern based in Ames 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.