A Tradition for US Presidential Candidates: The Iowa State Fair

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09 August, 2019

This weekend, presidential candidates in the United States are taking part in a campaign tradition: the Iowa State Fair. The yearly event includes games, competitions, alcoholic drinks, and unusual traditional foods.

During election season, candidates meet possible voters who are attending the fair. These voters are especially important because they will have the first chance to identify their favorite candidates.

Since 1980, more than half the candidates who won an early voting event in Iowa went on to win their party's nomination. So the Iowa state fair is important for the candidates.

But often, candidates do not leave voters with a good opinion.

Part of the difficulty is that candidates are expected to take part in many of the activities at the fair. For example, some food sellers offer deep-fried Oreos – cookies cooked in very hot oil. Others sell meat covered in bread covered in more meat.

Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang holds a turkey leg during a visit to the Iowa State Fair, Friday, Aug. 9, 2019, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang holds a turkey leg during a visit to the Iowa State Fair, Friday, Aug. 9, 2019, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

But these foods may not appeal to candidates. For example, a candidate in 2003 took one bite of the Oreo cookie and threw the rest away. One of this year's candidates, Tulsi Gabbard, does not eat meat. Another, Cory Booker, does not eat any kind of food from an animal.

Drinking beer is also a popular activity at the fair. But a candidate in 2003 asked for a strawberry yogurt drink instead. The move made him appear different than the voters he was trying to connect with.

The state fair is also a time to be easy and friendly. Most people wear clothes like jeans and t-shirts. But in 2007, one candidate came wearing shoes that cost $500. And he did not walk in the crowd. Instead, he rode in a small, open vehicle. A few months later, that candidate tied for third place with Iowa voters, and soon after withdrew from the campaign.

But some candidates perform well at the fair. In 2007, then-candidate Barack Obama played on the rides with his children. In pictures of the event, he and his family are smiling. He went on to win Iowa's early voting. Later, he won the national election, too.

When he was a presidential candidate in 2015, Donald Trump, also won the approval of many at the Iowa State Fair – but he did so in an unusual way. Most candidates try to create an image of being simple people who understand the voters' economic concerns. But Trump arrived at the fair in his own helicopter. However, the crowd liked the fact that he let children ride in it. A few months later, Trump finished second in Iowa's early voting.

This year, at least two candidates are in a good position to appear at ease at the fair. One is John Hickenlooper. Before he was the top official of the state of Colorado, he opened a successful beer-making business. He is planning to pour beer for people attending the fair this weekend.

And candidate Amy Klobuchar says she goes to her state fair every year. She comes from Minnesota, a state next to Iowa. Both states have a strong milk products industry. And both states show artwork, at their fairs, made out of butter.

Klobuchar says she plans on comparing the two states' famous butter sculptures. Each year in Minnesota, an artist sculpts a representation of a young woman known as Princess Kay of the Milky Way. And in Iowa, an artist sculpts a representation of a large farm animal.

Klobuchar said, "I am looking very forward to seeing your butter cow at the Iowa State Fair."

I'm Caty Weaver.

And I'm Ashley Thompson.

Kelly Kelly adapted this Associated Press report for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments section, and visit 51VOA.COM.

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Words in This Story

cookie –n. a sweet baked food that is usually small, flat, and round and is made from flour and sugar

bread –n. a baked food made from a mixture of flour and water

butter –n. a solid yellow substance made from milk or cream that is spread on food or used in cooking

sculpture –n. a piece of art made by carving or molding clay, stone, metal or other materials