State fairs are in full swing, and presidential hopefuls are getting acquainted with Iowans. As the first state to hold a caucus in the 2008 presidential primary, politicians take advantage of the state fair’s 1 million visitors to test the political waters.
It’s an odd setting for DC politics. The Iowa State Fair is a demonstration of how agriculture has helped shape a quirky Midwestern culture. Today’s events, for example, include a Mom Calling Contest, hot beef sundaes, rubber stamp art techniques, “Focus on Ostrich,” by the Iowa Ostrich Association, at least two goat milking competitions, and a titillating program entitled “How’s My Wienerschnitzel?” Ambivalent fairgoers can escape to the Iowa Wine and Cheese Garden starting at 11 am.
For anyone born and raised in Iowa, the real highlight is the butter cow. Lines typically snake around the Agriculture Building as eager Iowans wait for look at the cow crafted from 500-600 pounds of butter. While the Butter Cow Lady, Norma “Duffy” Lyon, has sculpted a new butter cow annually for the last 45 years, this year she gave up the reigns to her 29 year-old apprentice, Sarah Pratt. Over the years, Norma has also sculpted butter objects to keep the cow company in her refrigerated showcase. These butter creatures hold a funhouse mirror to Iowa culture: Grant Wood’s “American Gothic,” Elvis Presley, Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” John Wayne, The Peanuts Gang, Tiger Woods holding a tiger (really), and this year, Superman.
The Iowa State Fair also has another proud tradition: politicians eating fair food. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich visited the fair last week and ate a pork chop on a stick. Delaware Senator Joseph Biden, who first visited the fair 20 years ago during his bid for president, was reportedly devouring a hoagie in one hand and an ice cream cone in the other.
Other politicians couldn’t help but compare the Iowa State Fair to home. Indiana Senator Evan Bayh commented that “I see you serve beer at your fair and we don’t” in Indiana. (Wait until he finds out what time the wine garden opens.) George Pataki observed that, “We have a great state fair in New York but… we don’t have pork on a stick.” Republican Senator Sam Brownback was at the Iowa State Fair yesterday and Senators John McCain and Bill Frist are expected today or tomorrow. Iowa Governor, Tom Vilsack, has also visited several times - no word on what he’s been eating, but as a native Iowan it’s unlikely to make much news.
So are the state fair visits paying off? According to WHO-TV’s informal “Cast Your Kernel” poll taken on August 16th, not really. Of the Republicans, Senator John McCain came out on top with 24 percent, followed by Rudy Giuliani and Condoleezza Rice each with 20 percent. Neither of the leading Democrats has yet paid a visit to the butter cow. John Edwards and Senator Hillary Clinton were tied at 33 percent, while Iowa’s own governor Tom Vilsack came in third with 13 percent.
It seems that the 500 pounds of butter in the butter cow are enough to sustain the hopes of at least eight politicians. It is a copious amount - about 2000 sticks in all. That’s enough buttersticks to nickname 2,000 baby pandas, or draw butter for 2,000 lobsters. Or, you could butter 4,000 tubs of popcorn, or 16,000 pieces of toast.
In a letter about his trip to Iowa, Newt Gingrich closed with this:
“…the process of electing the President of the most powerful country on earth passes through a state fair in rural America where more than one million people come with their families to eat nearly anything that comes on a stick, compete in numerous agricultural competitions and contests, ride the rides, enjoy the shows and see the ‘butter cow,’ but that is how we do it in America, where a free people get to put their candidates to the test face to face.”
Notes: According to the new butter cow lady, Sarah Pratt, this year’s butter cow is a Jersey and requires about 500 pounds of butter.
Assumptions: One ear of Iowa sweet corn only requires half a tablespoon of butter. Popcorn needs 1/4 cup per tub. Lobsters apparently require 1/2 a cup. Statastic does not advocate sautéing pandas, no matter how delicious that might be. Butterstick was blogosphere’s attempt to name Tai Shan, the baby Panda at the National Zoo.