Joe Biden said it best at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox: “I’ve been around a long time.”
Biden, a former Vice President, U.S. senator and three-time presidential candidate, is no stranger to Iowa or its State Fair.
Whether it was his status as a long-time politician, second fiddle to a popular president or his high standing in 2020 presidential polling, people at the Iowa State Fair Thursday were excited to see Biden.
He was greeted in Des Moines by his wife, Jill Biden, and a small group of volunteers. From then on, he was flanked by a traveling scrum of staff, reporters and fair attendees eager to snap a selfie.
His signature aviator sunglasses kept the sun at bay as he walked the street and sidewalks, pausing every few yards to shake a hand or pose for a picture.
Before getting on stage at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox, he polished off an ice cream he purchased at a food stand along his walking route.
He even bumped into Steve Bullock, the governor of Montana and a fellow presidential candidate. Bullock was the first candidate of the 10-day State Fair to speak at the Soapbox. By the end of the fair, 22 Democratic candidates will have attended and one Republican, former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld.
At WHO-TV’s tent, featuring the “Cast Your Kernel” poll of Democratic and Republican presidential candidates, Biden stopped to shake hands, including with a man in a shirt sporting the president’s name.
“There’s hope for change,” Biden told the elderly supporter of President Donald Trump.
At the Soapbox stage, Biden spoke for about 17 minutes on Trump, health care, education, renewable energy and his desire to “unite the country.”
“We can do whatever we want to do if we remember we can do it together,” said Biden, to applause.
“Everybody knows who Donald Trump is, even his supporters know who he is,” Biden said, as he launched into his concluding statement. “We have to remember who we are. We choose unity over division, we choose science over fiction, we choose truth and facts … Look, we have to beat this president to change the trajectory of this country.”
Biden took a couple questions from the crowd before he was shuffled to a nearby tent to face the awaiting swarm of TV cameras.
For Tammi and Roger Steffen, of Marengo, in Eastern Iowa, Thursday was the first time they saw the Vice President speak in person.
“It feels like he was a little more free-flowing and a little more talkative,” said Tammi Steffen, of Biden’s Soapbox speech compared to his last two debate performances. “More energizing. That’s a good word.”
The couple was undecided on who to support in the February 2020 Iowa Caucuses and described themselves as “in-between” voters, not quite settled on either party.
“Biden’s good, too,” Tammi Steffen said, after naming New York Mayor Bill de Blasio as a standout candidate. “I just kind of like Biden because of Obama. That’s where I was kind of hoping he’d stand out.”
Despite their uncertainty about the Democratic field, the Steffens were sure about their feelings toward the current president.
“I just think he needs to pull back on his comments,” said Roger Steffen. “His words matter. What he says does matter and people take it to heart. Anybody that gets that job, one of the most important jobs in the United States, has to think about what he’s saying.”
Tammi Steffen agreed.
“People look up to you,” she said. “Supposedly that’s supposed to be a position that people look up to. And for me, that’s not someone that — if I had children — I would not want them to look up to him.”
By Elizabeth Meyer
Photos by Julie Fleming