Fans and reporters mob The Donald (red hat)

A Political Junkie’s Paradise: The 2015 Iowa State Fair

Pork chop on a stick? Check. Bacon-wrapped corndog? Check. Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Mike Huckabee, and Bernie Sanders? Check. Welcome to the 2015 Iowa State Fair, which has drawn about 100,000 visitors a day this year. And the presidential candidates . . . every last one of them.

I love politics and am a complete campaign junkie, so when I had to plan a trip to Iowa I made sure the timing coincided with the fair. It is located on a huge, mostly flat area with multiple structures including an agricultural center, a grandstand for concerts (Def Leppard and Carrie Underwood both played this week), and rides and food stands galore. (The pork chop and corn dog I chowed down were among the healthier delicacies offered.)

The Iowa Fair is truly the epicenter of American Politics in 2015. On Saturday alone I saw Trump, Clinton, Santorum, and Sanders. Party switcher Lincoln Chaffee was also allegedly there, but neither I nor the rest of the fair goers can confirm. On Monday, I got a chance to see Carly Fiorina and Scott Walker. I also got to hear from a lot of friendly Iowans about what they think of the presidential race so far.

Here are my observations:

Hillary Clinton looked like an evil Disney character. Why has nobody made this observation before? Just look at this picture I took! She also looked very tired… like she had been up all night deleting emails.

Hillary Clinton or evil disney character?

She has got to hate this stuff, being around regular people and all. Some Iowans were irritated with the throngs of reporters surrounding her and blocking food stands. Some yelled out things like “Move out of the way! I am trying to get in line to buy a pork chop!” Others were happy to engage the candidate on the issues: “Where are the emails, Hillary?” She just flashed that teeth-gritting ‘I am pretending not to hear you’ smile and moved amongst the throngs of cameras following her every move, while no doubt dreaming of being anywhere but here.

Anyway, there was clearly a lot more excitement from the news media following her than from the Iowa fair goers. I suppose she had some regular people excited to see her, but not like a former First Lady running for President should. This was especially evident in retrospect, after I saw the reaction to Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

As you have undoubtedly heard, Donald Trump helicoptered in. I didn’t see the copter — most fair goers didn’t — but we all heard it. The crowd was EXCITED to see Donald Trump. He was surrounded, not just by reporters, and not necessarily even by supporters, but by fans. That is a distinction worth making. His appeal is both in his celebrity and his brash over-the-topness.

Also, he was wearing cuff links. At a fair. In Iowa. The guy could not be more out of touch with regular Americans in terms of relatability. He has certainly shaken up this race, but it remains to be seen if he can actually get his fans to vote for him several months from now.

Bernie Sanders: Hero to the unkempt

Bernie Sanders is a disheveled off-his-rocker socialist. But what really stood out to me about his trip to the fair was his supporters: the sweatiest, most gnarly collection of non-showering hippies you would ever see. Hippies in the 70s following the Grateful Dead were better groomed.

And here’s the thing: these people were eating up everything he said. While it is scary to me that there is a real platform for someone who believes Barack Obama hasn’t taken this country far enough to the left, there is no denying the very real excitement for his campaign from a certain under-showered leftie population. Hillary should be worried. There was more excitement for this self-proclaimed socialist and for multiple Republican candidates than there was for her.

Speaking of leftists, union-types from Wisconsin took a busload of around 50 people down to protest their governor, Scott Walker. They were wearing cheeseheads and holding up protest signs and generally being something that Iowans are not, rude. Walker responded to one screaming protester, “I am not intimidated by you sir or anyone else out there.” The protest was probably the best thing that could have happened there for Walker. Wisconsin unions lose again.

Carly Fiorina was excellent and, unlike Hillary and Donald, neither of whom spoke at the famous Des Moines Register Soapbox, she not only spoke but took questions. She started by sharing a question she was recently asked by a reporter. “Do you think a female’s hormones could get in the way of you making the right decision as president?” Her response? “Can you think of a case where a man’s hormones have caused him to make a bad decision?” It brought the house down. She went on to field questions ranging from the minimum wage to Alzheimer’s to ISIS. She was smart and articulate and wearing designer jeans and rocked the house.

Two candidates that I did not see, but that I heard talked about, were Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal. Both have a lot of support in Iowa. Huckabee’s turn at the soapbox was well received. Keep in mind I was only at the fair for two days, so I missed a lot of the action.

Two take aways:

I don’t know who will win Iowa and neither do you. I don’t know who the next president will be and neither do you. But it will not be Hillary Clinton.

It is striking how civic minded Iowans are. Real people here know who is running and who they like — not just party activists. They were all friendly and happy to talk about even the second tier candidates. The fair was truly a political junkie’s dream (and a dieter’s nightmare).