Pork chops, soap boxes, and hecklers: Are 2016 candidates ready for Iowa fair?

13 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

2016 White House hopefuls ready to pitch their plans at the Iowa State Fair.

Greeting voters and snacking on fried foods at the fair is all but a requirement for presidential candidates, and most of the two dozen or so in the race are expected to stop by during the 11-day affair. WASHINGTON – It doesn’t get much more American than the Iowa State Fair – a place where butter is king, hog calling is sport and politicians are tested.

That includes a 20-minute tour on the “soapbox” that’s sponsored by The Des Moines Register, for both a speech and to take questions from voters. It is a shining display of the state’s heartland agriculture, with 600-lb. butter-sculpted cows, rows of gleaming yellow corn and livestock judged on the basis of shoulder height, stride length and “attractive rib design.” LIFE photographer John Dominis attended the fair in its 101st year, 1955, and captured much of what today’s attendees would see too—save for some wardrobe updates. This year, 19 presidential hopefuls from both parties are gearing up to make the annual August pilgrimage, where they’ll be up-close and personal with voters like Bob Hemesath. “It’s a very relaxed.

But the forecast is already a little cloudy for the event: The fair takes place amidst a growing concern that the Iowa presidential caucuses, set for Feb. 1, are in decline and that state’s cache might go along with it. The excitement contained within his Technicolor images was encapsulated by the observation one young visitor made that year. “Except for Christmas,” he said, “it’s the most important thing that happens all year.” Last month, in a truly concessionary move, the state Republican Party decided to end the Iowa straw poll, after a number of the candidates opted not to participate. Matt Strawn, the former Iowa GOP chair, told the Register that the machinations of his national party had effectively “chipp(ed) away at Iowans’ role in the process.” It’s not just Hawkeye State politicos who are grappling with the potential change to their accustomed status: There’s an entire political-industrial complex that has, since 1972, oriented itself around the quadrennial political horse race. With their first-in-the-nation status, the caucuses have long held an outsized influence in presidential nominating process; In 2008, the election was credited for singularly launching Barack Obama’s White House run.

It’s a big concern across the state, especially for industry and interest groups that have long relied on the caucuses to lobby and market their interests to future presidents and the national press. Not only is Iowa’s political influence up for grabs, but the agricultural issues that have come to define its politics have grown more complex and diffuse. “The commodity groups have had a lot of power,” said David Swenson, an expert in agricultural economics at Iowa State University. “Corn, soybean and hog producers have always been very opportunistic at making sure they use these candidate forums or candidate interviews or candidate interactions to advance their pet interest. This year, how Republican candidates come off could hold even more importance than in past years, Dianne Bystrom, director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics, told FoxNews.com. That is really not as likely now.” There also hasn’t been, for the last several decades, a truly unifying agricultural policy issue to support, such as after the 1980s farm crisis (federal subsidies). “The nature of representation has changed over the years and the whole idea of gratuitously advancing (agricultural) interests has lost its taste among politicians,” Swenson said. “Ethanol was the last great gasp of some of the super ag interests issues—it has lost its shine.” In March, Bruce Rastetter, an Iowa businessman and GOP donor, who has made his fortune from hogs and ethanol interests in the state, convened an agricultural forum in Des Moines that was attended by a dozen GOP presidential candidates. This year, the challenge for the 17 Republicans in the running for the 2016 GOP nomination will be to find ways to set themselves apart from the pack.

Bystrom says they’ll have to do it by striking just the right cord. “What happened to the kinder, gentler Mike Huckabee?” she asked, referring to his performance, which some called caustic, at the first Republican presidential primary debate on Aug. 6. Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, the top ethanol lobbying group, said his organization is now beginning to focus on other key early states. The PG-rated tone also means candidates should think carefully before making any big policy statements or weighing in on controversial topics like Planned Parenthood and immigration, Bystrom added. We are not just about soybeans, even though we are a soybean association.” At the same time, other industries not normally associated with the caucuses are seeing a political vacuum they can occupy.

Our partners
Follow us
Contact us
Our contacts

About this site