The Political Soapbox: a stage, microphone, and 20 minutes

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DES MOINES, IA (Gray DC) -- Rides, games, and food. They’re all ingredients for a state fair. But in Iowa, you can add stump speeches to that list. All week long, many of the presidential candidates are making their way to Des Moines.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg takes the stage at the Des Moines Register's 'Political Soapbox' at the Iowa State Fair on Tuesday, August 13. (Source: Gray DC)

Under a hot August sun, voters and TV cameras crowded into a tight space to see South Bend Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg at the Iowa State Fair Tuesday. He’s the latest of the 2020 presidential hopefuls to participate in the Des Moines Register’s Political Soapbox.

The setup is nothing elaborate – just a 8 foot by 8 foot wooden platform, surrounded by some hay bales. Armed with only a microphone, the candidates have just 20 minutes to make their case.

“I had one candidate ask me if he could tap dance," said Rachel Stassen-Berger, the Des Moines Register's Politics Editor. "I was like, ‘Sure, it’s your 20 minutes.’ You can bring up your family if you want, as several of the candidates did. You can take questions from the audience or not – totally up to you.”

Presidential candidates have visited the soapbox since 2003. Stassen-Berger said there have been some memorable moments – like when Mitt Romney told a heckler in 2011, “Corporations are people, my friends.”

“We remember that [incident] – not just because it dogged him for rest of his campaign, and frankly, I still see it on social media – but that was said at the Des Moines Register Soapbox,” Stassen-Berger said.

Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa) knows all about the soapbox. He climbed up there seven times.

“It’s really a microcosm of democracy in some ways to be at the state fair and addressing the crowds there," Loebsack said. "So I find that to be really rewarding.”

Loebsack says the soapbox is a must for any candidate running for the White House.

“Get up there and be yourself. Be authentic. Be genuine. Give your speech. And make sure you’re talking from your heart, not just your head," he said. "I think that’s really important for Iowans.”

Iowans have an important role in the elections. The state will hold the first-in-the-nation caucuses in February.

Copyright 2019 Gray DC. All rights reserved.

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