DES MOINES, Iowa (CN) – Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro’s challenge in his appearance at the Iowa State Fair on Friday was to set himself apart from the crowded field of contenders who are barnstorming across Iowa this week. He did that by talking about how he would not make America great again, but make America better.
“I am running for president because I believe we live in the greatest nation on Earth,” Castro told a crowd gathered near a stage bordered with hay bales.
But he said he wants to make it even better by making America the “smartest, fairest, most prosperous nation on Earth.”
The former secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Obama administration and former mayor of San Antonio was the first up on the Des Moines Register’s Political Soapbox on the second day of the State Fair, which will attract upwards of 1 million visitors over 11 days. Former Vice President Joe Biden drew a large audience and a crowd of reporters and photographers Thursday.
All Democratic – and Republican – presidential candidates have been invited to address fairgoers. They are given a microphone and 20 minutes to make their pitch to folks strolling down the main thoroughfare of the 400-acre fairgrounds.
Four other Democratic candidates were scheduled to speak Friday, including Andrew Yang, John Delaney, Marianne Williamson and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. Saturday’s speakers include U.S. Senators Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, among others.
In response to an audience question, Castro explained why he did not skip the Iowa State Fair visit, as fellow Texan and Democratic primary contender Beto O’Rourke did in the wake of a mass shooting in El Paso.
“I didn’t want to go there just to go there. He is from there,” said Castro, a native of San Antonio, referring to O’Rourke’s hometown of El Paso.
“I am not from there. What they don’t need is presidential candidates going there,” he added. “What they need is action on common-sense gun legislation.”
In response to questions from the press following his Soapbox speech, Castro defended his twin brother, Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro, who tweeted out the names of 44 people who have donated the maximum allowable amounts to Trump.
The move has been called harassment, but Julian Castro said such campaign donation information is public record.
“What he did was publish publicly available information,” he said. “Anyone can pretend that it is harassment, but it is not.”
Castro’s “smartest, fairest, most prosperous nation on Earth” platform begins with education, from universal pre-K to K-12 schools that produce graduates who can get gainful employment after graduation, and affordable and accessible higher education.
He also wants to strengthen Medicare and make it available to “every single person who wants it,” and if you want to keep your current plan, you can.
“We should be able to do both of those things,” Castro said.
He also pushed criminal justice reform.
“I am the only candidate who has put forward a plan to reform policing in the United States. The criminal justice system begins with the cop on the street,” he said, adding that the system should not intimidate people based on their race.
“The system is broken. We need to fix it. My plan will fix it,” he said.
To make the U.S. the most prosperous country in the world, Castro called for raising the minimum wage, matching worker productivity with wages and benefits, and making affordable housing available.
“I see housing as a human right. No one should have to sleep on the streets, especially veterans,” he said.
Andrew Yang, an entrepreneur and philanthropist, has made headlines with his slogan of being the opposite of President Donald Trump — “an Asian guy who likes math” – and pledging $1,000 a month for every American as a basic universal income.
Yang said solutions to the nation’s problems will not begin in Washington, D.C., which is “not a town of leaders but a town of followers.” He said he was told by someone in Washington that “what we need is for you to start a wave in another part of the country and bring it crashing down on our heads.”
Yang’s answer: “Challenge accepted.”
Former Maryland Congressman John Delaney, who has been campaigning in Iowa for two years and has visited all 99 Iowa counties, began with what he sees as the most pressing issue for his party in this election.
“Who can beat Donald Trump is the No. 1 question for Democratic voters,” he said, adding that Trump is “a reckless and lawless president who needs to be retired in 2020.”
Delaney’s policy prescriptions are heavy on what he calls “pragmatic solutions,” including an emphasis on infrastructure, to which he would commit the largest investment since the federal highway building program that began during the Eisenhower administration.
“The central issue facing this campaign,” he said, is to “restore the common purpose and sense of who we are as a nation. I’ll restore that sense of common purpose as a nation, as president.”
Marianne Williamson, lecturer and author, began her speech by pointing out that speaking out about America’s problems, as she does, would get her jailed in some countries. She added that Americans also have a responsibility to speak out about this nation’s problems.
“I’m running for president because I think there are some things that need to be said,” she said.
Williamson does not use the rhetorical style of traditional politicians.
A few examples:
“Our political establishment is not aligned with our goodness.”
“I don’t say I’m going to Washington to fight for you. I’m going to Washington to co-create with you.”
“I want a U.S. Department of Peace,” because to “combat hate you have to cultivate love.”
“Donald Trump did not create all these problems. These problems created Donald Trump.”