Pence campaigns at Iowa State Fair

'It's something he's always wanted to do,' Northey says of GOP vice presidential candidate

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DES MOINES — Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence spent Saturday getting a taste of Americana and a hot beef sundae topped with a cherry tomato during a conspicuous stroll through the Iowa State Fair surrounded by Secret Service agents, campaign handlers and media boom microphones.

Pence, 57, Indiana governor and Donald Trump’s running mate, stopped to take a “selfie” of himself, his wife, Karen, and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad in front of the fair’s iconic butter cow. He also flipped chops at the pork tent and cast a kernel of corn for Trump in an unscientific poll at a TV station’s fair booth during his two-hour zigzag around the fairgrounds.

“Who’s that? Donald Trump?” asked one fairgoer whose attention was diverted momentarily from the blur of corn dogs, funnel cakes and livestock sounds by the entourage of TV cameras, reporters and Iowa State troopers accompanying Pence, his wife and Branstad through Saturday’s heavily attended festivities.

“Play ‘Free Bird’” yelled a fairgoer as Pence paused near the stage in Jalapeno Pete’s bar and restaurant to shake hands with Iowans, greet babies in strollers and navigate the mass of humanity that slowed movement through the grand concourse en route to the Beef Quarters and the aforementioned beef sundae lunch break.

“He said it’s something he’s always wanted to do,” said Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey, who met privately with Pence to talk trade and agriculture before touring the fairgrounds with him. “So I think it’s a perfect fit for him to be here.”

The vice presidential candidate got his most boisterous greeting at the GOP booth in the Varied Industries Building. Republicans chanted “We like Mike,” “Trump” and “USA” before two detractors held up signs saying “Make Misogyny Great Again” several yards from where Pence briefly addressed the crowd.

“The haters always have to show up, and the media has to give them attention,” one fairgoer observed.

Pence said he was honored to celebrate Iowa’s great agricultural tradition before rallying the GOP troops for the 2016 presidential campaign that lies ahead.

“Iowa always plays such an important role in the choice that America makes. I know this fall Iowa will lead the way when we elect Donald Trump the next president of the United States of America,” Pence said.

“Let’s all work our hearts out,” he told Republicans gathered at the GOP fair booth. “There’s a little over 80 days, but I know in my heart of hearts if all of us do all that we can, we will elect leadership in America that will make America great again.”

Exiting the Ag Building, a man stopped Pence to wish him luck, and a woman shook his hand.

“They asked me how this compares to the Indiana State Fair,” Pence said, nodding back at reporters still gathered near the butter cow exhibit. “I said ‘butter’” flashing a grin before making his way to the pork producers’ tent.

There, a person dressed in a duck costume held a sign saying “Donald ducks releasing his taxes,” which drew chants of “lock her up” that pro-Pence fairgoers aimed at Trump opponent Hillary Clinton.

About the same time, Democrats gathered at a Hillary Clinton Des Moines field office several miles away. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Iowa Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald did not discuss Pence. Rather, they continued Democrats’ call for Trump to release his tax returns.

Vilsack released his tax returns annually during the two four-year terms he served as Iowa governor. He said doing so is important to engender trust with voters, and said he does not believe Trump’s claim that he is not releasing his tax returns because he is being audited.

“I’m telling you, there’s a reason beyond this audit nonsense that he provides that he doesn’t want people to know,” Vilsack said. “I don’t think he’s paid much taxes. I’ll bet he’s paid a lot less tax than most people in this room have paid as a percentage. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t as charitable as he claims to be. And I wouldn’t be surprised if his business dealings are involving people that we would potentially be a little bit suspect of. And he’s probably got resources parked outside the United States.

“If I’m wrong, all he has to do is prove me wrong,” Vilsack added. “Show me the tax returns.”

Erin Murphy of Lee Newspapers contributed to this story.

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