The first weekend of the 2019 Iowa State Fair had it all: a butter cow, a craft beer tent, mutton bustin’, a Slipknot museum, and 20 candidates vying for the Democratic presidential nomination. Iowa is the home of the first nominating contests that will eventually determine the nominee from both parties, and the food-on-a-stick bonanza is the stage on which candidates vie for the hearts of Iowa voters and attention of the news media.
As President Donald J. Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee, the state fair was swarming with Democratic candidates attempting to eat their way to the top of the ticket. The candidates largely chowed down on traditional, nostalgic fair food: pork chops, ice cream cones, and corn dogs. Cory Booker, the New Jersey senator who is famously vegan, tracked down a fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich on a stick. “Can we settle the Democratic primary by how many of these you can eat?” he said. “I think I could take the field.”
John Delaney, a former U.S. representative from Maryland, flipped burgers at the Iowa Pork Producers Association Tent. The state has more pigs than humans, and is the top pork producer in the country. With 36.7 billion in sales in 2015, the pork industry is a huge economic driver in the state, making this tent an important stop for many candidates.
Businessman Andrew Yang ordered two turkey legs from the Steer ‘N Stein stand. He called the order “the best 10 dollars I ever spent,” and then, in reference to his freedom dividend proposal that would give each American $1,000 a month, said, “Think of it, America. A hundred of these a month.”
Tulsi Gabbard, U.S. representative for Hawai‘i’s 2nd Congressional District, ordered a veggie corn dog and fried avocado slices from the Veggie Table tent, and shared a few slices with a fairgoer who came over to meet her. Unfortunately, they’d thought Gabbard was a vegetarian — she’s vegan — and there was milk in the batter for both the corn dog and the fried avocado slices. “I’m sorry we contaminated her,” Veggie Table owner Ruth McCoy said.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee ordered a chocolate soft serve ice cream cone after saying during a press conference, “I hope to be the first presidential candidate to take a bite of every food in the state fair.” Perhaps the ice cream was a way for the climate-change-focused candidate to tackle the 88-degree day at the Iowa State Fairground.
California Sen. Kamala Harris also visited the Iowa Pork Producers Association Tent to flip burgers. “I think I can also flip Republicans,” Harris said, before she ordered a six-pack of pork chops for her staff and wolfed one down in front of cameras.
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar went to Brad and Harry’s to order fried cheese curds, her favorite state fair food item. When asked if they were better than the cheese curds at her neighboring home state’s fair, she wisely sidestepped the question before announcing that they were “both great.”
Tim Ryan, U.S. representative for Ohio’s 13th Congressional District, cooled down with a mug of beer with Todd Anderson from the Cherokee County Pork Producers after working a shift flipping burgers.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren ordered a corn dog in the midst of the most intense press scrum of the state fair, whose size owed in part to the fact that she regularly stopped to take selfies with supporters, allowing stragglers to catch up. “Nobody get injured over a corn dog,” Warren commanded as cameramen swooped in to capture her with the iconic fair food item.
New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper teamed up to flip pork chops at the pork producers tent before eating bacon on a stick.
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker ordered a fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich from Veggie Table. The peanut butter and jelly is the only vegan dish at the stand (his campaign also considered fries and lemonade as other potential vegan options). “I’m in a bit of heaven right now,” he said while eating it. Soon after, he ordered another. “This is really good. It exceeded my expectations.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio ate a corn dog and called it “a health food” because “it’s got corn,” adding that “corn is a vegetable.”
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders also nabbed a corn dog. When asked how it was, he paused and said, “I’d like to make an announcement: pretty good!”
Additional reporting by Meghan McCarron