Fair Warning

The ten-day Iowa State Fair begins today in Des Moines, and as always at the front end of a presidential cycle (particularly one with no incumbent in either party), the candidates will be so thick on the ground that you can’t stir ’em with a stick.

The fair begins with a parade through downtown Des Moines, but the action soon moves to the highly stereotyped venue of hay bales laid out by the Des Moines Register where candidates are supposed to declaim for 20 minutes. 19 candidates have reportedly agreed to endure that ritual, which typically comes with both organized and spontaneous heckling (this is where Mitt Romney made his “Corporations are people, too, my friend” in response to a heckler). According to NPR’s Don Gonyea, the “soapbox” will be used heavily from the get-go, with one big absentee:

Thursday alone the soapbox will host Mike Huckabee, Martin O’Malley and Jim Webb. Friday it’s Jeb Bush; and on Saturday, Bernie Sanders. Hillary Clinton is expected to attend the fair Saturday as well, but the Register reports she hasn’t accepted the Soapbox invitation, and it appears increasingly unlikely. But more candidates will speak as this year’s fair continues.

Aside from the Register‘s little outdoor torture chamber, candidates will be expected to gaze reverently at the Butter Cow (and the accompanying “thematic” butter sculpture, which this year involves figures from the board game Monopoly), mingle with fair-goers (typically about a million show up at some point in the Fair), and of course, eat Fair Food.

On this last point, CBS News’ Kylie Atwood offers a Fair Warning:

On the food front, there is one resounding warning call: avoid the corndogs. At this typical Americana event, food is king, and everyone will talk about the food the politicians eat. The media will also take photos of the candidates as they eat.

“It does not make for a good visual,” adds one political operative. If a candidate really wants that corndog, they should wait until they are in the car.

I’d say Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry would agree (do a Google Image search and you’ll see why).

It’s safer to stick with Deep-Fried Oreos or a Pork Chop on a Stick or my personal favorite, Bauder’s Pharmacy Peppermint Ice Cream Bars.

Some pols just don’t handle the atmosphere well. The most legendary screwup was in 2007, when Fred Thompson supposedly wore Gucci shoes and tooled around the dusty and sometimes hilly fair grounds in a golf-cart (I call it “legendary” because Thompson went out of his way to deny it all when I mentioned it in 2012, calling it a fabrication by Fox News’ Carl Cameron).

I personally love the Iowa State Fair and regret that I will miss this one, but I cannot imagine there is a presidential candidate who would not prefer to sit in front of an air conditioner and eat a corn dog in privacy and peace.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.