Political maneuvering follows the presidential candidates to the annual Iowa State Fair
Barbecue pork chops, sample corn dogs, and visit the iconic dairy “Butter Cow” statue: These celebrations and more await the 2024 presidential candidates starting Thursday at the Iowa State Fair.
The fair, an annual celebration of Iowa’s agricultural industry, is a rite of passage for presidential candidates looking to mingle with voters in early states. And with so many unscripted interactions, and a selection of unique foods, it also serves as a landmine for White House seekers.
In 2011, Democrats seized on then-candidate Mitt Romney’s reaction to his teasing that “corporations are people, my friend” to portray him as aloof from the rest of the campaign.
Former nominees Michelle Bachmann, Bernie Sanders and Rick Perry struggled to eat the famous corn dogs at the Iowa State Fair with dignity in front of the cameras.
While running for president in 2004, John Kerry made the slip of ordering strawberry juice at the show, instead of the typical beer.
The moment followed Kerry for years: “In my defense, the food was delicious—but you’re right, Matt, that smoothie clearly killed me at the Iowa caucuses.” tweets in 2019.
This year, as always, the political dramas of the race are sure to follow the candidates through the festivities.
At the center of those dramas is former President Donald Trump, who remains in the lead in the race for the Republican nomination in Iowa, according to a Statewide poll collection by FiveThirtyEight. According to opinion polls, Trump always has the support of nearly half of Republicans in Iowa.
Trump is the only candidate to decline Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds’ invitation to sit alone at the Fairside Talk. Trump soured on Reynolds last month, after she confirmed she would remain neutral in the nominating contest.
I opened up the governorship for Kim Reynolds, And when she fell back, I supported her, I took part in great assemblies, & she won. Now, it wants to remain “neutral,” he wrote in a scathing Truth Social post last month.
Trump, who is currently facing three federal indictments, will arrive ready to attack his main challenger, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who appears to be leading Trump in Iowa polls, despite a tumultuous few weeks for DeSantis’ campaign. Trump brings to Iowa a group of politicians from Florida who endorsed him as their governor.
The show will also see hits from increasingly vulnerable candidates desperate for a “breakaway moment” that could launch their popularity. Among them is Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, who was the only candidate to march in a parade Wednesday night to kick off the event. Former Vice President Mike Pence is in a similar position, having barely qualified for the Republican debate stage despite his previously prominent position in the party.
The only Republican candidate not to announce plans to attend the fair is New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whose late entry into the race has focused his campaign on New Hampshire, another early state, rather than Iowa.
On the Democrats’ side, the two candidates running against President Joe Biden for the nomination — writer Marianne Williamson and anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. — will make a brief gallery stop. Biden himself, who remains the frontrunner in the race, has no intention of attending.
The Democrats will also host programs at the fairgrounds to “compare the Republicans’ 2024 MAGA agenda with President Biden’s and the Democrats’ track record of success.” Minnesota Governor Tim Walz and Iowa Democratic Party Chair Rita Hart will hold a press conference to tout the party’s legislative victories.
The issue of abortion may loom large in the festivities, as Ohio voters on Tuesday became the latest red-leaning state to side with Democrats on an abortion-related ballot measure.
Iowa recently passed its own law banning abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, though the strictest restrictions are temporarily banned while facing legal challenges. Republican candidates’ positions on abortion are especially important to evangelical voters in Iowa, who make up a large voting bloc in the state’s early primary.
Since the festivities began Thursday morning, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker has cleared the window of the famous “butter cow” exhibit after the refrigerated environment created clouds. Presidential candidate Larry Elder sat down with Reynolds. and presidential candidate Perry Johnson toured the sheep pen at the fair.
This article originally appeared on abcnews.go.com