Corn dogs. Cattle shows. And a cow carved out of more than 270kg (600lbs) of butter. The Iowa State Fair is in full swing after opening on Thursday, and already, political contenders have descended on the eleven-day event, hoping to rally voters in the United States heartland.
So far, long-shots in the Republican presidential race have made early appearances to drum up momentum.
Former Vice President Mike Pence was spotted slinging pork chops. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez signed autographs. And North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum surprised crowds by saying he was looking forward to one particular fair delicacy: rattlesnake on a stick.
Some of the Republican heavy-hitters, including former President Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, are likewise expected to hit the fairgrounds on Saturday, for what is anticipated to be one of the busiest days of the event.
Trump leads the Republican field in the 2024 presidential race by a wide margin, with DeSantis seen as his closest conservative rival. A July 31 poll from The New York Times and Siena College found 54 percent of Republican voters backed the former president over other Republican hopefuls, with DeSantis trailing at a distant 17 percent.
Trump’s continued popularity comes in spite of a growing slate of legal woes. He faces two federal criminal indictments, one state-level criminal indictment in New York and a civil defamation suit brought by the writer E Jean Carroll.
But the Iowa State Fair has long been a platform for politicians to humanise themselves — or attempt to do so. Candidates have already hopped on stage next to bales of straw to pitch themselves to voters at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox.
And at the new “Fair-Side Chats” — a play on the “fireside chats” that endeared World War II-era President Franklin Roosevelt to radio listeners — Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds has offered a laidback platform for Republicans to share everything from energy policy to their funniest campaign moments.
Connecting with Iowa audiences is crucial, though. The state’s caucus remains the earliest presidential contest for Republican candidates hoping to land the party’s nomination.
Democrats, meanwhile, voted earlier this year to replace the Iowa caucus as the party’s first primary on the election calendar, a decision that upended more than 50 years of tradition. The move was a bid to appeal to a more diverse voter base: Iowa, a landlocked Midwestern state known for agriculture, is nearly 90 percent white.
A number of successful presidential candidates, however, have passed through the Iowa State Fair on their path to the White House.
Democratic candidate Jimmy Carter touted his bona fides as a peanut farmer in his appearance in 1976, months ahead of his win. And in 2007, Barack Obama joined his daughter Sasha on a bumper car ride, a little over a year before nabbing the presidency himself.
Even Trump made the pilgrimage in 2015 before making his successful bid for the White House, arriving in a self-branded helicopter.