DES MOINES — Among the scores of livestock, amusement park rides, food on a stick and cows made of butter, there is another staple of the Iowa State Fair:
Politicians and political candidates.
Even though 2017 is an off year for Iowa politics — there is no statewide election this year, nor is there an immediate build-up to the state’s first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses — there has been a political presence at this year’s Iowa State Fair, which concludes Sunday.
This may not be an election year, but it’s still Iowa.
The 2018 elections — the June primary and November general — are still 10 and 15 months away, but the campaigning for those elections has begun in earnest.
That has been evident at the fair, where candidates — in particular, those seeking to be the state’s next governor — can be found among the masses.
One must look a little harder, if so inclined, to find politics at this year’s fair. The political atmosphere is nothing like two years ago, when there was a presidential candidate at the fair almost every day, and on some days, the crowds that came to see them were massive.
But the politicians and candidates are back this year. There even was a presidential candidate at the fair, even though the 2020 Iowa caucuses are roughly 2½ years away and the next presidential election is more than three years off.
Iowa's top office
But most active have been the candidates for Iowa governor.
Gov. Kim Reynolds has been a consistent presence at the fair, although that’s not uncommon for a sitting governor.
But Reynolds, who earlier this year became the state’s first female governor when Terry Branstad resigned to become U.S. ambassador to China, also has a campaign to run. Her campaign team has a booth among the scores of others inside the fairgrounds’ Varied Industries Building, just across Grand Avenue from the grandstand.
Reynolds has spent some time at her campaign’s booth, but she also has strolled the grounds, regularly stopping to visit with and grant photo requests from fairgoers.
On Wednesday, Reynolds spent some time in the Iowa Egg Council stand, passing out free hard-boiled eggs, which, of course, were served on a stick.
Reynolds stopped on her way to the stand to chat and pose for photos. One woman thanked Reynolds for comments she made earlier in the week regarding proposed tuition increases at the state’s public universities.
“Thank you for saying that’s too much,” the woman told Reynolds.
The universities, in light of what they say is insufficient state funding, have proposed raising tuition by as much as 41 percent over the next five years.
“That is too much. There is no way that Iowa families could afford a 7 percent increase over five years,” Reynolds said at her weekly news conference.
Ron Corbett, the Cedar Rapids mayor who is challenging Reynolds from within the Republican Party, also has been a frequent presence at the fair.
Corbett has regularly set up shop at the Republican Party of Iowa’s booth inside the Varied Industries Building, where he has greeted visitors and handed out free copies of his book, “Beyond Promises.” On Wednesday, Corbett estimated he had handed out roughly 1,000 copies of his book during the fair.
Corbett’s hand-shaking, chatting and book-giving have been methods to introduce himself to Iowa voters, something he acknowledges he must do in order to make his candidacy more familiar to voters outside eastern Iowa.
The Democratic candidates for governor, of which there are eight, took turns appearing at the Iowa Democratic Party’s booth, which is just across the aisle, both physically and politically, from the Republicans.
Cast your vote
Anyone who attends the fair and wants to contribute to polls on the governor’s race have a couple of options.
The Des Moines TV station WHO-TV is once again holding its “Cast your kernel” poll, in which passers-by take a corn kernel and place it in a jar bearing the name of the candidate he or she supports.
As of Wednesday, Reynolds was the clear leader among the Republican candidates. There were 10 full jars and 11th being filled, while no other candidate had filled as much as a single jar.
Nate Boulton, a state senator from Des Moines, had a healthy lead among the Democratic candidates. He was on his fifth jar, while Fred Hubbell, a Des Moines businessman, was on his second.
The Iowa Secretary of State has its own gubernatorial poll. Fairgoers can cast a vote electronically, and results are available in real time on the Secretary of State’s website.
As of Friday morning, Reynolds at 77 percent and Boulton at 39 percent were their respective parties’ big leaders in that poll, as well.
Presidential politics were prevalent at the fair as well.
The backdrop for the Republican Party of Iowa’s booth is a banner that reads “Stand with Trump,” while standing nearby are two cardboard cutouts of President Donald Trump. Visitors have been signing the roughly 4-foot-by-10-foot banner throughout the week; by Wednesday, it was virtually covered with signatures.
On Wednesday, the day after Trump’s highly criticized remarks about a white supremacy rally in Virginia that turned violent, supporters continued to cover the “Stand with Trump” banner with signatures.
And the many Iowans running for governor were not the only candidates for executive office to appear at the Democrats’ booth. The party’s first officially announced candidate for president in 2020, Maryland U.S. Rep. John Delaney, visited the fair Wednesday and Thursday.
In addition to stopping at the Democrats’ booth, he spent some time taking in all the fair had to offer, stopping along the way to visit with fairgoers, of course.
Welcome to the Iowa State Fair, where politics never really take a year off.
Just ask Sean Bagniewski, chairman of the Polk County Democrats.
“It doesn’t feel like an off year,” Bagniewski said.