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At Iowa State Fair, 2020 presidential candidates pitch to the heart of America

Rachel Tesler

Set in the American pastoral of the midlands, the Iowa State Fair represents the traditional family, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps values this country was raised on. For this reason, it has been a critical turning point for decades of presidential campaigns, since Dwight Eisenhower visited during his re-election bid, appealing to the ethos of citizens as candidates push up their sleeves to enjoy a fried Twinkie and get a little mud on their boots.

Throughout the campaign, candidates are under a microscope, but the Iowa State Fair is indicative of the type of person Americans want in the White House – can this person both guide the country to a better future and could I enjoy a beer with them? How much candidates spend, what they spend it on and how they discuss spending determines the success of this pivotal moment in candidate myth-telling.

The candidates have not yet disclosed how much they’re spending on this event. However, 22 of the Democratic presidential candidates currently have scheduled appearances throughout the 11-day festival of sweet treats, carnival rides and impressive agriculture beginning Thursday, except Beto O’Rouke, who announced he was canceling his events to stay in El Paso, Texas as the community mourns the victims of a devastating mass shooting that occurred over the weekend.

The 2020 Democratic presidential slate will stand on their soapbox – yes, an actual soapbox because that’s what the official stage run by the Des Moines Register is called – in front of the million people expect to attend the fair and the rest of the nation. The fair is also scheduled just six months before the Iowa caucuses kick off the nomination balloting representing a countdown to the beginning of the true presidential race – or the end of their party run.

Sens. Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand are both scheduled to speak on the iconic soapbox on Saturday, Aug. 10, no doubt trying local fare, but hopefully avoiding corndogs, which make for unseemly photo-ops, Eric Woolson, a media relations expert who guided several presidential hopefuls through the fair, said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

Former Republican Massachusetts Sen. Mitt Romney uttered his now-infamous “corporations are people” line during a 2011 debate at the fair, solidifying his elitist image for Democrats and critics, inaccessible to the everyday person.

Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren will be able to speak with small business vendors at the fair, but should remember to tip well. During the August 2004 fair, Democrat John Kerry ordered a $4 strawberry smoothie rather than something more accessible like a pulled pork sandwich and regrettably tipped $1 on his $20 check, which was criticized as "cheap."

Ahead of his state fair appearance, former Vice President Joe Biden stopped by his Iowa campaign headquarters earlier this week, where he is allegedly increasing his campaign presence after his earliest of three presidential attempts fell apart in the state. During an August 1987 fair debate, he was accused of plagiarism when the press noticed he borrowed his closing statements from a British politician -- he dropped out of the race a month later.

On his first foray into the race in August 2015, President Trump defied state fair precedents by descending on the fairgrounds in his private helicopter and offered rides to kids, much like an attraction all on its own.

He has no scheduled appearances at the fair at this time.

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Fair attendees and candidates will enjoy entertainment from artists on the Grandstand like Luke Bryan, Toby Keith, and Zac Brown Band. Goat Yoga is returning this year and is currently sold out.

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