Our State Fair

I have just returned from the State Fair, where I observed Newt Gingrich and Tom Vilsack on this Saturday morning.  The bipartisan couple met on a fairground’s stage to speak about biofuels (story here). After parting, Gingrich was mobbed by a group of foreign journalists who’ve been visiting Iowa.  He stood in the thicket for about 20 minutes, peppering his comments with references to dozens of countries and at one time gave an impressive recitation of the names of the former Soviet republics. 

Vilsack, meanwhile, was being peppered with comments from farmers, a few of them wearing shirts bearing the Farm Bureau logo.  You can guess the topic:  making Jeff Vonk — the director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources — the "hog lot czar" with the power to turn down an application for a livestock confinement construction permit.  No voices were raised but as the opinions were expressed to Vilsack the Farm Bureau photographer snapped pictures of FB members speaking with the governor.  Caption contest, anyone?

A little while later Gingrich wound up standing in front of a camera under the FOX 17 tent that’s positioned on the Fair’s Grand Concourse.  I stood for 90 seconds to watch the crowd.  Several people were standing, waiting to speak to Gingrich after he’d conclued the interview.  Others pointed to him and told their fair-goer colleagues "Hey, that’s Newt" or something to that effect.  In my minute-and-a-half of observation (I was counting), THREE people whipped out their cell phones and snapped a picture. 

Gingrich hung out at the Fair on Friday, too, signing his books at the Republican Party of Iowa’s booth in the Varied Industries Building and taking his grandson, Robert, to see some of the sites.  He was repeatedly recognized and swarmed by people.  The other potential ’08 candidate on the fairgrounds Friday — New York Governor George Pataki — had a huge retinue but few fairgoers knew who he was.  Seems like all that FOX facetime for Gingrich makes him more recognizable than a guy who governs one of those east coast states. 

But then we aren’t talking about appealing to the masses when it comes to the Iowa Caucuses, are we?  Nevertheless, there will be a couple of boatloads of presidential candidates visiting the Fair this year (I’m defining it as a couple of boatloads because if all the candidates who set foot on the Fair were there together, you’d have to use at least two of the Ye Olde Mill boats).   

Back to Gingrich and Vilsack, hanging out at the Fair is a bit of a reunion show for them.  Last year, Vilsack found out Gingrich was going to be there, so he invited Gingrich to help show the governor’s steer in the celebrity steer show.  Gingrich told the crowd at this morning’s event the behind-the-scenes story.  "He and I cheerfully walked around (the show ring) having a great conversation because the 13-year-old who owned the steer was doing all the work and trying to keep us from getting hurt in the process," Gingrich revealed.  Gingrich also said he had turned down an invitation (issued four days ago) to "show" in this year’s celebrity steer show because he promised he’d be eating at his mother-in-law’s home in Wisconsin tonight.  "I thought the idea of calling Whitehall, Wisconsin and saying ‘Would you mind being bumped for a steer?’ was beyond my ability to explain to her so I just gave up and caved in," Gingrich said.



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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.


  1. I miss the fair. Great blog, Kay.