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Opinion: Nikki Haley’s Iowa State Fair illustrates how she’d put in the work as president

August 16, 2023
| Des Moines Register by Chris Cournoyer

There’s a right way to do the Iowa State Fair, and there’s a wrong way.

I say that from experience. In 2017, I ran for the state legislature and won. The county fairs were make-or-break moments for me — a time to really connect with Iowans and give them a chance to get to know me in an authentic way.

What was true for me is true for the many presidential candidates hoping to win the hearts — and votes — of Iowans next year. You learn a lot from the leaders who show up, look you in the eye, answer questions and show that they are listening. And while there’s no official “checklist,” we’re all essentially looking for the same thing.

  • Who stays the longest — and who leaves the earliest?
  • Who shakes the most hands — and who avoids the people of the Hawkeye State?
  • Who gets the most genuine face time with voters — and who plays more to the TV cameras thanthe real voters?
  • The list goes on. We look for who visits with farmers, the students, and local small businesses.

We listen to candidates stump on the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox.

But we don’t just want to hear what they have to say. Far more important, we want to see what they do, because actions speak louder than political platitudes.

All told, this year, most presidential candidates showed up. But when it comes to the checklist I just laid out, only one candidate did the Iowa State Fair the right way.

Nikki Haley.

I hope you saw what I saw. The former South Carolina governor and UN ambassador didn’t fly in and fly out. She spent Thursday, Friday and her whole Saturday on the fairgrounds, “Fair-Side.”

Nikki connected with real people in real ways. She met cattle farmers, ate at local vendors, flipped pork, played games with Sen. Joni Ernst, and talked at length with Gov. Kim Reynolds.

No one else did all of that.

A lot of candidates skipped the Des Moines Register’s famed Soapbox, too. But not Nikki. Some candidates try to fill up as much of the 20 minutes with the sound of their own voice. Not Nikki.

She opened her time on the soapbox to the audience, saying, “But I want to talk to you now about what’s going on in the country, and then I’m going to open it up to questions. There’s nothing I won’t answer. You may just not like my answer.” In return, she got an array of questions, from how to solve the mental health crisis to how to mend the broken economy. She followed through on her promise. She answered every question.

In fact, when one attendee tried to interrupt her, Nikki gave a master class in grit and grace. She didn’t pick a fight or resort to insults. She stood her ground, made her principles clear, and showed Iowans that she stays calm under pressure.

This is what leadership looks like. This is how a president acts.

We don’t need someone who ignores people, attacks the media, and does 20 rounds of tit for tat. We need someone who’s honest with people, who inspires them with the truth, and who provides a vision of a better future — built on timeless American principles.

Haley does just that, and not just at the Iowa State Fair. She’s unafraid to stand up, correct the record, and talk about the tough issues. She’s proved it by stumping in Iowa and holding 36 grassroots events since her campaign launch in February — more than most candidates.

No wonder she crushed the Soapbox. For Nikki Haley, it was just another day in Iowa.

The real question is, why aren’t others doing things the way Nikki does? We should expect every candidate to campaign the Iowa Way. If they aren’t willing to host town halls, attend roundtables with local leaders, and answer questions from Iowans, what does that say about their commitment to Americans? If they ignore us now, they’ll ignore us later, especially when they don’t need our votes anymore.

The “Iowa Way” is the hard way, the long way, the time-consuming way. But it’s critical to sniffing out the candidates who are in the race to save America versus those who just want to boost themselves.

Nikki Haley is running for president for the right reasons. She’ll take our country in the right direction, making America strong and proud once more. And yes, she did the Iowa State Fair the right way, which says an awful lot about everything else she’s going to do.

Chris Cournoyer is a state senator who represents Scott, Clinton, and Jackson counties. She has endorsed Nikki Haley for the upcoming caucuses.

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