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This year at the Iowa Fair, there was the usual celebration of corn, butter and pork, and then there were the tell-tale signs of an election year: the governors and senators, the legacy candidates, the outliers and the upstarts. Gwen Ifill reports on how Iowa voters are responding to the candidates.
We begin tonight in Iowa with a cultural and political magnet.
Gwen is in Des Moines for Iowa's State Fair, where more than a dozen presidential candidates are trying to stand out in a thick crowd.
The Iowa State Fair is a colorful and chaotic celebration of all things corn, butter, pork and amusements, even in a nonelection year. But this weekend, the political yin and the yang of a crowded field all descended on Iowa at once and brought it into especially sharp focus.
There were the legacy candidates, Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton, who have walked this midway before.
JEB BUSH, Republican Presidential Candidate:
Man, this has been the greatest state fair of my life.
We can get you a good amount of chops. How does that sound?
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, Democratic Presidential Candidate:
Yes, I want one on a stick, though.
There were governors, senators and outliers.
GOV. SCOTT WALKER, Republican Presidential Candidate:
God bless you, God bless America, and God bless Iowa. Thank you so much.
And there were the upstarts, one from the left and one from the right, who brought with them crowds and curiosity.
Bernie Sanders was greeted like a rock star.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, Democratic Presidential Candidate:
If you and I were sitting here four months ago, what you would have found is virtually nobody who knew Bernie Sanders was. I am a senator from a very small state.
But I think what has happened in the last three or four months is people all over this country are responding to our message, and that message is that government has got to work for all of us, and not just a handful of billionaires.
DONALD TRUMP, Republican Presidential Candidate:
What's our slogan? Make America great again.
Donald Trump, who brings sensation with him wherever he goes, this time brought a helicopter. That, combined with Hillary Clinton's appearance earlier the same day, in which she posed for a pork chop selfie, created its own bizarre political ecosystem.
They're smart. Let's give them a helicopter ride. OK?
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:
You know, I apologize. We left the helicopter at home.
A crowd immediately gathered when we pulled Sanders aside.
No, I think what this campaign is about is the American people are growing extremely unhappy with establishment politics, with establishment economics. And you know what else? Even with establishment media.
Sanders supporters descended on the fair from throughout Iowa, but also from surrounding states.
SAMUEL BLAKE, Bernie Sanders Supporter:
Would anybody like more information about the Bernie Sanders campaign? Please stop by.
Sharona and Samuel Blake, who worked on the liberal Occupy movement, drove three hours from Kansas City to sign up supporters.
I grew up in a union household, so I can support the union support that he's getting. We're both veterans of the U.S. Navy. And we think supporting the veterans means not making more veterans by getting involved in wars overseas.
Trump organizers say they are doubling down in Iowa, but so far have opened only one state office. But celebrity has its own advantages.
Is there an anti-establishment piece of this too? Bernie Sanders is getting that on the left.
JOHN HULSIZER JR., Iowa Trump Campaign Adviser:
I would say what you are seeing in both parties — I can't necessarily speak for the Democrat Party — but I think a lot of what you're seeing is, it's not politics as usual anymore. And people are really tired of how politics has been done.
And it's time. It's refreshing. A lot of people feel that this is the election that you are going to see someone that's not a politician step forward, which we have already done, and is going to take control and be the next leader of our country.
But are voters engaged or simply curious? Iowa voters have a long history of favoring insurgents and unknowns, at least early on.
The Iowa caucuses next February are an important springboard to primary season, but there are no guarantees. Ronald Reagan? George H.W. Bush? Bill Clinton? They all lost here. Naturally, the state fair has its own poll, with corn kernels used to cast votes. The real polls show Sanders in a solid second place in Iowa, while in New Hampshire, next door to his home state of Vermont, one recent poll has him ahead.
Arthur Sanders, a political science professor at Drake University, and no relation to the senator, watches all the fuss with an expert's amusement. He suspects the Sanders and Trump surges are summer romances.
Does August bear any resemblance to what we are going to see in February?
ARTHUR SANDERS, Drake University:
Tell me what you mean.
Well, on the Democratic side, the answer is partly, probably yes, because the contours of that race is relatively clear. You have got a distinctive front-runner. You have got a significant challenge on the left. And then you have got a few other candidates who are hoping to emerge out of that struggle.
On the Republican side, you have an unprecedented number of candidates. We have 17 people running. The distance between second place and ninth place might be 2 percent on caucus night.
College student Allysha Bilges will cast her first vote ever, for Sanders. She wasn't old enough to vote for Barack Obama.
ALLYSHA BILGES, Sanders Supporter:
It's different because he — there's — with Obama, there was change. I could sense that there was going to be change. But, with Bernie, there is — it's going to be a lasting effect for all of us. It's — it's a random guy that, like, honestly, I had no idea about coming to a state fair. He says things, and I just — I feel like he's being real. He's being 100 percent honest.
Sanders has been drawing the largest crowds of the campaign, tens of thousands in three nights on the West Coast last week, and here in Iowa, a midway-clogging crowd that outnumbered the turnout for both Clinton and Trump the same day.
So how do you translate that anger, that unhappiness that you're seeing when you travel into something that will actually allow you to win the nomination?
You guys with me?
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
Just under six months from now, the summer romances will be tested on a cold and likely snowy caucus night across Iowa.
But it's not snowy or cold here yet. Today, three more candidates hit the fair, Lindsey Graham, Carly Fiorina and Scott Walker. The party's just getting started — Judy.
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