At the Iowa State fair, Reynolds hands out eggs on a stick, Corbett gives away biographies

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DES MOINES — Among the livestock, amusement rides, food on a stick and cow made of butter, there is another staple of the Iowa State Fair: politicians.

Even though this is an off year for Iowa politics — there is no statewide election 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.

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 governor — are mingling with the masses.

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 politicians and candidates are back this year. There even was a presidential candidate although the next presidential election is more than three years off.

Iowa’s top office

But most active have been the candidates for Iowa governor.

GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds has been a consistent presence, 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 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.

Wednesday, Reynolds spent some time in the Iowa Egg Council stand, passing out free hard-boiled eggs, which, of course, were on a stick.

Reynolds stopped on her way to the stand to chat and pose for photos. One woman thanked her for comments she made earlier in the week criticizing proposed tuition increases at the state’s public universities.

“Thank you for saying that’s too much,” the woman told Reynolds.

Ron Corbett, the Cedar Rapids mayor who is challenging Reynolds from within the Republican Party, also has been a frequent presence.

He regularly has set up shop at the Republican Party of Iowa’s booth inside the Varied Industries Building, where he greeted visitors and handed out free copies of his book, “Beyond Promises.” Corbett estimated Wednesday he had given away roughly 1,000 copies of the book at the fair.

Corbett’s glad-handing and book giveaway are ways to introduce himself to Iowans, something he acknowledges he must do to become 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 has a couple of options.

The Des Moines TV station WHO-TV once again is 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.

Nate Boulton, a state senator from Des Moines, had a healthy lead among the Democratic candidates. He was on his fifth jar.

The Iowa Secretary of State has a gubernatorial poll, too. Fairgoers can cast a vote and the results are immediately shown 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 on display also.

The backdrop for the Republican Party of Iowa’s booth is a banner that reads “Stand with Trump,” while nearby are two cardboard cutouts of President Donald Trump. Visitors have been signing the roughly 4-foot-by-10-foot banner.

On Wednesday, the day after Trump’s highly criticized remarks about a deadly white supremacy rally in Virginia, supporters continued to cover the banner with signatures. It was virtually covered with names.

The Democratic Party’s first 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 time taking in all the fair had to offer, stopping along the way to chat with fairgoers, of course.

Welcome to the Iowa State Fair, where politics never takes a year off.

Just ask Sean Bagniewski, chairman of the Polk County Democrats.

“It doesn’t feel like an off year,” he said.

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