FORT MADISON, Iowa — Apoorva Ramaswamy had a simple ask for two supporters of her husband’s presidential campaign: “What do people say” about why they’re not supporting Vivek Ramaswamy, and “what answers can I help you provide?”
“Well, the only one I have and I couldn’t even remember who said it to me, but they mentioned his dark skin and they think he’s Muslim,” a supporter named Theresa Fowler told her at a restaurant meet-and-greet Thursday. “I kind of set them straight on that. I don’t know if they believe me or think I was covering for him, I don’t know.”
Apoorva Ramaswamy listened intently before responding, “Not much we can do about that one.”
But the interaction foreshadowed comments Apoorva Ramaswamy, a physician, faced throughout the day as she held events in a final push by the Ramaswamy campaign to meet prospective caucusgoers in the last days leading up to the Iowa caucuses. The questions made clear that despite holding nearly 300 events in the state, more than any other presidential campaign, a number of Iowa Republicans still have questions about the Ramaswamys’ faith, nationality and race, though he has addressed all of those factors of his personal life repeatedly during the campaign. Nikki Haley, who is also Indian American, has also faced some similar questions during the 2024 race.
In an interview after the event, Fowler expanded on the concerns she hears from members of her own family regarding Ramaswamy.
“They think he’s Muslim, so it’s his nationality more than anything,” she said. “It’s just that they can’t get beyond when you look at someone and, you know … I’m working on them,” Fowler said.
At a later event in Jefferson County, Iowa, Apoorva Ramaswamy was grilled by one of two event attendees about her own upbringing.
“How long have you been in the United States, were you born here?” asked Wayne Kneeskern, an attendee from Fairfield, Iowa.
“No, I came when I was 4. Vivek was born and raised in Cincinnati,” Apoorva Ramaswamy replied, explaining her family’s Indian heritage.
The attendee continued with questions about Apoorva Ramaswamy’s parents — where they lived and whether they had green cards (they are citizens) — before remarking that she doesn’t have an accent.
“I’ve been here since I was 4 years old,” Apoorva Ramaswamy replied. “I’ve spoken English since I was 4.”
In an interview after the event, Kneeskern explained that he “loves foreign people,” citing what he described as his two “unofficially adopted” children. He said he asked about Apoorva Ramaswamy's upbringing because of the “bad things” the Ramaswamys say about the state of the country. He has not yet decided who he will support at his caucus, but he said it won’t be Ramaswamy.
He particularly takes issue with Vivek Ramaswamy’s “10 truths” platform and calls for a “revolution,” which he interprets as the candidate “revolting against the country you love.”
“I keep thinking, why did you come here then if it’s so bad,” Kneeskern said. “This guy’s going to turn out being a dictator I’m afraid, just like [Donald] Trump’s going to be.”
At multiple events, Apoorva Ramaswamy found herself outlining her religious views to voters inquiring about her “stance on religion” and “faith.”
In the early days of his campaign, Vivek Ramaswamy faced so many questions about his Hindu faith that he eventually incorporated an explainer of Hinduism into his campaign stump speech. Apoorva Ramaswamy ultimately did the same, connecting the principles of Hinduism to her husband’s desire to run for higher office several times throughout the day.
“We do not come from the traditional background for most presidential candidates. We are Hindus. … We understand when people hear that we’re Hindu, you want to know, like, ‘What does that mean, who are you, what does that stand for?’” she began.
“Our religion teaches us that all of us have been put here by God for a purpose,” she continued. “And that everyone has been given a gift, some gifts by God, and it is our job to use those gifts to the best of our abilities while we are here on this earth. And so, that is in a lot of ways why we are doing this.”
The explanation appeared to assuage some voters more than others.
At her final event of the day, a small meet-and-greet event in Jasper County, one Iowan attempted to ease concerns another attendee, who questioned Apoorva Ramaswamy’s faith, appeared to have.
“[Barack] Obama, he was not a Christian,” said the man, who declined to give his name, repeating an often-stated conspiracy theory about the former president’s religious views. “We can share the same values, that’s really what counts. There is no perfect person, only one.”
Apoorva Ramaswamy declined to speak to the news media at any of her stops throughout the course of the day. While she and her two sons have appeared with Vivek Ramaswamy on the campaign trail since he launched his bid last year, over the last few weeks she’s been holding an increased number of events on her own, as the campaign spread its resources across Iowa before the Jan. 15 caucuses.