DES MOINES — They will sit on hay bales, shake hands and talk about the weather, check out the butter cow, flip burgers and pork chops, and eat fried food on a stick.
If they find a little time, they also will remind people they are running for office.
More than two dozen politicians are scheduled to appear at the Iowa State Fair, which begins Thursday in Des Moines.
The list of those planning to appear includes the central figures in Iowa’s biggest election races this fall, as well as a few individuals with an eye on 2020 and the White House.
“I always consider the State Fair the state’s biggest small-town cafe,” Dennis Goldford, a political science professor at Drake University, said in describing the kind of retail politics popular in Iowa. “That State Fair sort of brings all those small-town cafes into one centralized area.”
The list of speakers for the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox include the candidates in the top race of the 2018 election in Iowa: for governor. Democrat Fred Hubbell will speak on Saturday, Libertarian Jake Porter on Monday, and Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds on Tuesday.
The gubernatorial race is expected to be competitive; one prominent national forecaster has called the race between Reynolds and Hubbell a tossup.
“Someone recently asked me Hubbell’s odds (of beating Reynolds), and seat of the pants I’d say 50-50,” Goldford said. “But that’s pretty good for a Democrat in a midterm election.”
The State Fair presents another opportunity for candidates to connect with potential voters and gain more experience addressing large crowds in public, University of Iowa political science professor Timothy Hagle said.
“It’s one more opportunity that gets a lot of attention to get your message out,” Hagle said.
The State Fair also can add helpful visibility to candidates in down-ballot races that do not get as much attention, Hagle said.
The Democratic, Republican and Libertarian candidates for Iowa secretary of state, secretary of agriculture, auditor and treasurer are scheduled to speak at the Register Soapbox.
Even though the presidential election is more than two years away, the Soapbox schedule also includes people who are running for president or considering it.
John Delaney, a Democratic congressman from Maryland who is running for president and has been actively campaigning in Iowa for months, will appear at the fair, as will potential Democratic presidential candidates Eric Swalwell, Andrew Yang, Tom Steyer, Steve Bullock and Julian Castro. Independent Evan McMullin, who ran in 2016, also will be there.
The 2019 State Fair will be more consequential to the 2020 presidential election. Clearly, however, some candidates — or potential candidates — hope to boost their profiles by appearing a year early.
“Every little bit helps, but this isn’t exactly like turning the soil after the winter to get ready for spring planting. It’s too early for that,” Goldford said. “But I think that it can’t hurt. Is there a huge return on this? I wouldn’t think so.”
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Hagle said the early appearance could help candidates who lack national name recognition — unlike, for example, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. He said a State Fair appearance can put lower-profile candidates on voters’ radar.
In addition, Iowa congressional candidates are scheduled to speak at the Register Soapbox. A few notable exceptions include a pair of Republican incumbents: Rod Blum in Eastern Iowa’s 1st District and Steve King in western Iowa’s 4th District.
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