Iowa State Fair Prepares For Onslaught Of 2020 Presidential Hopefuls

Aug 9, 2019
Originally published on August 9, 2019 5:43 pm
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Looking dignified while eating a corn dog - not easy. And that's just one of the challenges Democratic presidential candidates face as they head to the Iowa State Fair. With some two dozen contenders coming through this year, it's a more chaotic scene than usual. Iowa Public Radio's Clay Masters reports.

CLAY MASTERS, BYLINE: There are two things most people know about the Iowa State Fair. One, the food options can get ridiculous. A new item this year is the colossus sandwich. I'll let the inventor Drew Cownie explain what's on this bun the size of a dinner plate.

DREW COWNIE: And it's got three cheeseburgers, three sausage patties, about 10 ounces a mac and cheese and six strips of bacon, and it's about three pounds.

MASTERS: The other thing people know about the Iowa State Fair is presidential candidates come here every four years to get in front of caucusgoers who kick off the nominating process. Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar will be there tomorrow.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AMY KLOBUCHAR: And I am looking very forward to seeing your butter cow.

MASTERS: That's Klobuchar earlier this week at another Iowa stop. There's a bit of a rivalry between Iowans and Minnesotans regarding who has the best state fair.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KLOBUCHAR: I'm going to have to decide if it holds a candle to our Princess Kay of the Milky Way and her 12 court (ph) princesses all carved in butter busts and our revolving refrigerators.

MASTERS: The candidates won't just be looking at butter art and eating fried food; they'll take turns giving 20-minute speeches at the infamous Des Moines Register Political Soapbox.

RACHEL STASSEN-BERGER: It's not huge and ostentatious at all.

MASTERS: That's Des Moines Register political editor Rachel Stassen-Berger.

STASSEN-BERGER: There are all sorts of ways that, in these nonscripted interactions, candidates can go wrong.

MASTERS: It's where Mitt Romney said corporations are people. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump skipped the stage in 2015. Trump flew his helicopter over the fair when Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders was on the stage.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BERNIE SANDERS: You know, I apologize. We left the helicopter at home.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: It's in the garage - forgot to bring it.

MASTERS: It was Montana Governor Steve Bullock who was the first on the mic this year. He joked about all the pandering for those Iowa votes.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STEVE BULLOCK: Look - I know you'll get dozens of people trying to make some attenuated connection to Iowa. So I'm not going to tell you that my great-great-grandparents settled in Henry County in 1850.

MASTERS: After Bullock, it was former Vice President Joe Biden's turn. As he was finishing up, he had a slip of the tongue.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE BIDEN: We choose unity over division. We choose science over fiction. We choose truth over facts.

MASTERS: Many news organizations had published Biden's we-choose-truth-over-facts flub, but the crowd didn't seem to mind as they cheered. By the end of the weekend, 21 candidates will have made trips to the state fair, with still more to come.

For NPR News, I'm Clay Masters in Des Moines.

(SOUNDBITE OF KELLEY POLAR SONG, "ENTROPY REIGNS (IN THE CELESTIAL CITY)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.