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The ABCs of Iowa State Fair politics

Among the many must-attend events for presidential candidates, few are as iconic as the Iowa State Fair. Between the rich food and political speeches, Iowans have a lot to stomach during the 11-day event. Here’s some of what they see:

F is for fried. Fried Oreos, fried coke, fried Twinkies, fried butter (not sold this year). Fried food is part of the lore of the Iowa State Fair. Vendors go to extremes to draw attention to their wares, finding new ways to fry up some snacks. There is even a food app to help visitors find their favorites among the 200 food stands at the fair. And biting into the fried concoctions give candidates the chance for public displays of eating. Just like regular people.

B is for Butter Cow Sculptures. More than 600 pounds of Iowa butter goes into creating the “world famous” butter cow, which is good for more than 19,000 buttered slices of toast. This year marks 108 years since the first butter cow. Joining the cow this year are butter sculptures of Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch and other Sesame Street characters to mark the 50th anniversary of both the show and Iowa Public Television.

C is for Caucus. Why all the attention to Iowa? Because the Iowa caucuses — scheduled for Feb. 3, 2020 — are the first time voters officially weigh in on primary candidates. Winning in Iowa can give a candidate serious momentum going into larger contests. Barack Obama’s win over Hillary Clinton in 2008 set a mark for his campaign. Next year’s vote is February 3.

S is for Soapbox. More than 20 of the candidates running for president have spoken or are planning to speak at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox. Each candidate has 20 minutes to address voters and fair-goers from the stage.

P is for pander. Candidates will often go to great lengths to highlight whatever tenuous connection they have with Iowa. Gov. Steve Bullock joked about this during his turn on the soapbox: “I know you’ll get dozens of people trying to make some attenuated connection to Iowa. So I’m not going to tell you that my great-great-grandparents settled in Henry County in 1850, or that my mother was born in Ottumwa.”

H is for handshake. The fair gives candidates what they want: access to voters. And lots of them — more than 1.1 million people attended last year’s fair, the most in its history. Candidates get the chance to shake hands, pose for selfies and otherwise woo voters — up close and personal.

K is for kernel. A booth at the fair asks attendees to drop a corn kernel in a jar for the candidate they support. This booth got some extra attention over the weekend when Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s son, Henry, nearly dropped his corn kernel in Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s jar. You can also buy sweet corn at the fair.

O is for O’Rourke. Beto O’Rourke was the only high profile Democratic presidential candidate to skip the fair this year. He went to his home city of  El Paso, Texas after a mass shooting there. O’Rourke used to represent the El Paso area in Congress.

Lisa Desjardins, Matt Loffman and Rachel Wellford contributed to this report.