The Iowa State Fair is in full swing, with six candidates for the Republican presidential nomination making their way through the fairgrounds to charm voters in preparation for the crucial first nominating contest. This traditional fair, which is one of the largest in the nation, has become a quirky political tradition in Iowa. Aspiring presidents not only make their campaign pitches but also try their hand at flipping pork chops at a grill sponsored by the state’s pork industry. They pay tribute to a sculpture of a cow made entirely of 600 pounds of butter and indulge in fried foods, all while navigating through hecklers and a throng of media.
However, attending the Iowa State Fair doesn’t always go as planned. In 2007, Mitt Romney infamously flipped his pork chop into the gravel. Despite his loss in the caucuses that year, he went on to secure the party’s nomination four years later. Similarly, in 2015, Donald J. Trump, dressed in a navy blazer and pristine white dress shoes, took random Iowa children on helicopter rides from the fair. Although he also lost the caucus, he later won the party’s nomination.
The Iowa caucuses, set to take place five months from now in 2024, have already become a make-or-break contest in this race. With Trump currently leading by a significant margin, this state presents the best opportunity for his rivals to hinder his path to the nomination. If one of them can defeat him or even come close, it would reveal cracks in his support and potentially undermine the narrative that he still firmly holds the Republican base. Party strategists argue that if Trump emerges victorious in Iowa, it will be challenging to impede his momentum, particularly as the race expands to other states across the country.
Friday’s lineup at the fair consists of Republican candidates who have been struggling to break into the top tier of the nomination race. This includes former Vice President Mike Pence, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, Miami Mayor Francis X. Suarez, and conservative commentator Larry Elder. Some candidates are scheduled to give speeches at the political soapbox, a small podium open to the public and sponsored by the Des Moines Register. Others will engage in public Q&A sessions with Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, opting for a more scripted interaction with a fellow Republican.
While Saturday will bring the presence of Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to steal the spotlight, Friday’s attendees are likely to relish in the Iowa attention without the former president overshadowing the event.