Her message seems to resonate with voters who view issues such as gun violence, the rising cost of health care, and climate change as symptoms of more profound societal problems. “Rather than just putting Band-Aids on things, she’s looking” deeper, Ken Golden, a 59-year-old from West Des Moines, told me. I met Golden at a booth for the Iowa Democratic Party, where Williamson was signing autographs for eager fair-goers. “Dude, it’s Marianne!” yelled one teenage boy to his friend, before the two made a beeline toward her to get a selfie. A team of mostly middle-aged women staffers followed her around, carrying clipboards and wearing purple t-shirts and pink baseball caps, in keeping with the campaign’s color scheme. They passed out metal buttons bearing a watercolor portrait of Williamson looking pensive, with a single lock of hair covering her left eye. At first glance, I thought it may have been a reimagining of the album cover for Space Oddity.
“I like what she talks about—the collective patriotism, the type of politics we’re getting nowadays and how toxic it is for our country,” Golden told me, not taking his eyes off Williamson, who was moving slowly toward us. “She just has a unique approach to politics.” When Williamson finally reached Golden, she greeted him and signed her name in swirly cursive on a campaign brochure. “For Ken,” she wrote, adding a small star as a flourish. (A Williamson fan on Twitter explained to me that the star “stands for the light in each of us.”) Later, I watched as a mob cornered Williamson in the back of a souvenir shop; there were so many people trying to speak with her that the store owner walked back to demand their immediate exit. “People are trying to shop!” she yelled at Williamson, before apologizing for being rude.