DES MOINES, Iowa — Fried candy bars, butter sculptures, and prize pigs. Welcome to the Iowa State Fair — perhaps the most political patch of land in America every four years in August.
Iowans come to show off their best tractors and livestock and indulge in delicious fried food, while the Des Moines Register puts a soapbox out and presidential candidates get twenty minutes to say whatever they want.
Rob Sand is one of the votes that Democratic candidates hope to win over. As the state auditor, and one of the youngest state-wide elected officials in Iowa, he has become both a sounding board for candidates and also a desirable endorsement. He flipped the state auditor seat from red to blue in 2018, a model for these Democratic candidates.
"I have been all over the state. I just ran a tough race. I think they want to hear that advice to me from me and also as they do with anyone in the state of Iowa, if they can get an endorsement.”
Former Labor Secretary and Presidential candidate Julian Castro told VICE News on Friday that this was the “ultimate retail politics” stop.
"You rarely get a chance to actually interact with people with their families when they're maybe willing to talk a little bit more they're a little bit more relaxed. I think that's part of the allure, that and the fried Oreos,” he said as a mob of reporters followed him around a pavilion.
Sand says that presidential candidates should focus on issues like healthcare, a major point that Democrats pushed in the 2018 midterms to contrast themselves from President Trump. He also says that he hears Iowans raise concerns over corruption in government.
Policy aside, the fair offers a chance for candidates to connect with “ordinary people” as Sand put it, and also gives a rare chance for candidates to connect with voters across the aisle. Anyone and everyone shows up for the fair.
“So you have to have an actual interaction with a human being that isn't scripted that isn't tested and see what happens. There is no rule and I think that's part of why coming here is a good test for people,” Sand says.