Corn dogs and candidates: Democrats woo voters at the Iowa State Fair

The Iowa State Fair has long been the unofficial kickoff of the fall campaign season, when candidates ramp up their voter outreach and campaign operations in advance of next year’s Feb. 3 caucuses. Traditionally, politicians spend their time taking lighthearted photos with Iowa’s famed butter cow and posing with barn animals.

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Former vice president Joe Biden greets Iowa voters as he makes his way to the Soapbox stage on Aug. 8.

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) does a pinky swear with a little girl while walking through the fairgrounds on Aug. 10.

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Tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang takes a picture surrounded by fairgoers on Aug. 9.

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Democrats at the Iowa State Fair vying for the White House were given 20 minutes onstage, a microphone that projected their stump speech well past the fried twinkie stand and, perhaps most importantly, the undivided attention of hundreds of Iowans.

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People cheer as fairgoers go down the slide on Aug. 8.

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Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) rides the ferris wheel on Aug. 10.

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Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) laughs as she flips pork chops and hamburgers on Aug. 10.

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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) finishes a corn dog as he walks around the fair with his wife Jane on Aug. 11.

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Children enjoy corn dogs as they ride inside a red wagon on Aug. 8.

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Tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang is reflected in the glasses of a fairgoer as he speaks on the Soapbox stage.

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Some candidates tried to use the soapbox at the state fairground to cement or improve their standing in Iowa polls six months before the first caucus. Others asked Iowans to make donations that could help them qualify for the third Democratic debate in September.

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People wait for Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) to speak on the Soapbox stage on Aug. 10.

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Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) speaks to Iowa voters on the Soapbox stage on Aug. 10.

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Former congressman John Delaney (D-Md.) is told he has a minute of speaking time left on the Soapbox stage on Aug. 9.

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But it was also a tightrope act of retail politics. In a week that saw two mass shootings and a resurgence of the debate about what government should do to stop them, candidates talked about eating pork chops on a stick and admired prizewinning livestock sometimes moments after talking about cracking down on assault weapons and the threat of white supremacy.

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Iowa voters listen as former vice president Joe Biden speaks on the Soapbox stage on Aug. 8.

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) waves to Iowa voters on the Soapbox stage on Aug. 10.

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Although the candidate speeches were well attended, many more fairgoers partook of the other attraction, gorging on deep-fried confections, hopping on brightly colored rides, or simply seeking escape in the few air-conditioned buildings as afternoon temperatures neared 90 degrees.

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People walk through the horse barn on Aug. 8.

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A fairgoer interacts with a Polish Bantam chicken on Aug. 8.

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Kids enjoy playing in a water mister in 85-degree weather on Aug. 9.

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Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) wipes perspiration from his forehead before an interview on Aug. 8.

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Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) meets his mother, Carolyn Booker, amid the crowded fair on Aug. 10.

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Cash Briles, 6, has his ice-cream cone unwrapped on Aug. 8.

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Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) greets fair visitors on Aug. 10.

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) signs a Time magazine cover on Aug. 10.

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Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) kisses his daughter Anne before speaking to Iowa voters on the Soapbox stage on Aug. 11.

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Former vice president Joe Biden speaks on the Soapbox stage on Aug. 8.

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