DES MOINES, Iowa—Loaded with attractions such as bacon pecan pie on a stick, dairy cows, a tractor pull, and presidential candidates, the Iowa State Fair truly offers something for everyone.
Over a million visitors are expected this year for the annual fair, which runs Aug. 10-20, so it’s a magnet for presidential hopefuls ahead of Iowa’s Republican presidential caucuses Jan. 15.
Presidential candidates “know that this is a place that they need to come in order to socialize with the Iowa voter, answer very hard questions coming from those Iowa voters, and it really sets the stage as we ramp up toward those January caucuses,” Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, tells The Daily Signal.
Voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina traditionally go first in casting their ballots during primary season, so it’s no surprise that politicians spend time in all three states.
Iowan voters “hope that we can get our country back on track” following the Biden administration, Ernst says.
“What we see with this president is a president who appeases our adversaries all around the globe,” Ernst says. “It’s a president who has focused so far left on green ideology and climate ideology that he’s hurting Middle America. They just want to trample over the American people and do whatever he wants to do regardless of the consequences.”
Iowa’s junior senator joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” from the State Fair to discuss the visiting GOP presidential candidates and the effects on voters of the four indictments of former President Donald Trump.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:
Virginia Allen: We are out of the studio today and in Iowa for the State Fair, and it is my privilege to be joined today by Sen. Joni Ernst right here at the fairgrounds. Sen. Ernst, is the fair always this lively?
Sen. Joni Ernst: It is always like this, Virginia. Nothing compares to the Iowa State Fair. That’s the motto and people are out having a great time.
We’ve had record attendance this year at the Iowa State Fair. I noticed the other day, and it’s probably even topped it since, but we had 118,000-plus people in a single day at the Iowa State Fair. But we’ve got all these great presidentials coming through as well, which is really peaking a lot of people’s interest.
Allen: It’s this beautiful combination of folks enjoying the fun, enjoying the rides, eating a ton of fried food, and then you have all of these candidates for president who are coming through and sharing their message with the American people on how they would lead from Washington, D.C. What has been your take, as we have seen so many candidates come through? What have you seen from Iowans? What’s their response to having all of these candidates in their state?
Ernst: Well, they love this, and this is something that we go through every four years as we prepare for the Iowa caucuses.
I spent time with Mike Pence the other day out walking around and, of course, Vivek Ramaswamy and Nikki Haley. I saw Ryan Binkley this morning and, of course, got to spend some time walking with Tim Scott as well. Ron DeSantis and I flipped pork chops.
I mean, it’s just the presidentials are here, they know that this is a place that they need to come in order to socialize with the Iowa voter, answer very hard questions coming from those Iowa voters, and it really sets the stage as we ramp up toward those January caucuses.
Allen: It’s coming so fast, so soon. Share a little bit, if you would, about the history of the Iowa State Fair.
Ernst: Every year it does get a little larger as they add additional attractions to the Iowa State Fair. But it has always been very large and it is a tradition in many Iowa households to come to the fair.
The 4-H and FFA students will show their livestock. They will show 4-H exhibits, they’ll participate in different talent competitions. It just really is a great family-friendly environment.
We also have just all of the rides, and it’s just a great way to vacation, even here in Iowa. I’ve talked to a lot of folks that are coming from out of state to see what the hoopla is about.
Allen: I have met folks while I’ve been here from Canada and a group of friends from Africa who stopped in at the fair on their trip to America. You literally have people from all over the world coming to this fair. So neat.
Let’s talk a little bit more about some of the candidates and the issues that are on the minds of voters here. As you have talked to folks in Iowa, what is on their mind? And as they’ve met candidates, what do you think they’re looking for?
Ernst: Yes, I’ve talked to many people, when I do my county tour, and I’m hearing the same thing at the State Fair this year as well.
No. 1, what we call Bidenomics. It’s inflation, it’s the economy, and it’s the fact that so many people are struggling day-to-day with the cost of food, with their energy costs, their gas prices for their vehicles. All of it is very, very difficult for an average family to swallow, so they’re addressing that with these candidates.
No. 2, I’ve heard the southern border, it keeps coming up. I had a woman bring it up this morning to me.
And people are concerned about the election as well. I had another voter that was visiting with me today just on the street here at the fair and she is concerned about election integrity.
So, there’s a lot of things that Iowans are worried about, and all of these candidates are being called out and asked, “What are your plans to address this if you become president?”
Allen: Now, of course, President Donald Trump was here on Saturday. More and more indictments keep coming against Trump. What is the reaction among Iowans to all of those indictments? And do you think that that is affecting the way that they will choose to vote?
Ernst: I don’t think it’s affecting the way they choose to vote. If anything, maybe it energizes them. But what I do hear from Iowans is that there seem to be two systems of justice. There is one system of justice if your last name is Biden, another if your last name is Trump.
And just as we were walking over for this interview today, I had another gentleman that asked me if there’s anything that we could do to stop all of these frivolous indictments against President Trump. And really, that’s outside the scope of Congress. These are individual areas, individual states that are going after President Donald Trump.
But again, two systems of justice. And it really makes the American public, and especially here in Iowa, people wary of our judicial system.
Allen: Well, just as so many folks are watching Iowa since it is a caucus state and watching how Iowa goes, I know a lot of Americans are getting ready to watch that first presidential debate on Aug. 23. What do you think the American people are looking for?
Ernst: I think they want a sense of optimism and hope that we can get our country back on track. What we see with this president is a president who appeases our adversaries all around the globe. It’s a president who has focused so far left on green ideology and climate ideology that he’s hurting Middle America. They just want to trample over the American people and do whatever he wants to do regardless of the consequences.
And the consequences right now are a very bad economy. We see an open southern border. People want to know that there’s a solution for that. So there’s a lot of hard questions out there.
What we need our Republican candidates to answer is, what specifically are you going to do about these issues created in the Biden administration? And then, how do we carry our country even further forward after we have those solutions in place?
Because we’ve got to get the economy up and going, we’ve got to get people back to work, and we’ve got to focus on our educational system and make sure that our young people are prepared to enter the workforce when they finish high school or college, and we just don’t see that in this administration.
Allen: How are Iowans doing under those economic struggles with inflation? You have so many wonderful farmers in this state feeding so much of America. How are they doing?
Ernst: It’s been pretty tough, I’ll be honest. Many of the products that go into raising livestock or growing crops, all of those products have seen significant increase in price. And so, many of our farmers, when they’re spending all of this money on the inputs, they’re just not seeing the return. And it’s a lot of really hard work.
But for just as an example, everyday Iowan last night in my hometown ran into a friend and she was picking up groceries for her son and his daughters, and she said they are not coming to the State Fair this year because they can’t make ends meet.
And it’s really sad that people are living paycheck to paycheck, sometimes picking up second and third jobs just to make ends meet. This is not a good economy and it’s not something that the president should be proud of.
Virginia Allen: Senator, you served in our military, and a moment ago you mentioned America’s adversaries. I want to get your thoughts on a recent deal that the Biden administration made with Iran that essentially releases $6 billion in assets back to Iran in a prisoner swap. Your reaction to this?
Ernst: Well, this is the wrong way to go about it, and what it does is really tells the Iranians, the regime, that, “OK, Americans are for the taking and we know that we’re going to get a good return on that investment.” So what they have done is just endanger Americans that are traveling abroad and specifically in the Middle East.
And there is no repercussions to the Iranians, none at all. I have even joined a Senate Democrat, Richard Blumenthal, on pushing back against the administration because of this administration’s unwillingness to enforce sanctions that they put in place against Iranian oil. Iranian revenues from their oil exports have gone up significantly in this administration, even though we have sanctions against Iranian oil.
Allen: What does a deal like that mean for America’s future? What does this look like for America on the world stage?
Ernst: Well, Iran sees a very, very weak president in the United States right now, and they know that they can fully capitalize on this. They see America on bended knee in front of them, and this is absolutely not where America should be.
And as we look at these Republican contenders, we need to make sure that we do have someone that will be strong and will stand up against the Iranians, that will stand up against the Russians, against the Chinese, against the North Koreans.
And right now, President [Joe] Biden, he’s not focused on strengthening America, strengthening our military. He is so focused on the wokeness in the military, electric vehicles in the military. He’s not focused on making sure that we have the most lethal fighting force on the face of the planet. This is a horrible leader, and our adversaries are laughing at the United States because of the appeasement of Joe Biden.
Allen: As someone who did serve in our military, what will you be looking for yourself even among the candidates on how they will lead America on the world stage? And what do you think the American people are looking for right now? Obviously, we have the war continuing between Ukraine and Russia. China’s growing in power.
Ernst: When I look for a commander in chief, what I want to know is that, No. 1, we want to make sure that the military is strong and that we have the necessary resources to make sure that if we ever deploy our men and women under the color of our flag, that we have provided them the resources and training necessary to come back safely to their families. That is No. 1.
No. 2 is making sure that they have a strong foreign policy, that they are not cozying up to our adversaries, and certainly not letting adversaries get away with bad behavior and nefarious actions against the United States.
So a combination of those two things.
But again, we just need someone who is strong. And if you just simply look at President Biden, you hear him speak, he can’t string a coherent sentence together. It really is telling to our adversaries that they have an opportunity to take advantage of the United States.
Allen: Senator, thank you so much for your time today.
Ernst: It’s great to be with you, Virginia. Thank you.
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