Covid-19 erased the country fair -- a politician's paradise

Then-Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry with cows at the Minnesota State Fair in St. Paul, Minnesota, in August 2004.

This was excerpted from the July 24 edition of CNN's Meanwhile in America, the daily email about US politics for global readers. Click here to read past editions and subscribe.

(CNN)It's not fair.

This is low on the list of this year's tragedies, but the pandemic has devastated one of the most colorful rituals of American life: state and county fairs. The sprawling expos draw millions, with agricultural shows, horse jumping, carnival rides, country music, rock concerts, vintage vehicle displays and other local delights. In other words, paradise for politicians.
You haven't lived until you've watched the pig racing circuit that tours fairgrounds all summer. Or played kiss the pig — hopefully not a sweaty porker fresh off the racetrack — at the Delaware State Fair. In Alaska, you can enter homegrown vegetables in a giant cabbage contest. Try riding the mechanical bull in cowboy country in North Dakota, or gather round in Maryland to watch cows giving birth, like it's a Little League game.
    At the Iowa State Fair, catch up with the sports of pigeon rolling (world record: 1000 feet) and competitive butter carving. Dubious refreshments abound: At a recent edition of the California State Fair, punters devoured deep-fried, bacon-wrapped peanut butter cups. For a real artery clogger, try the Mississippi State Fair's Krispy Kreme burger: a beef patty between two glazed doughnuts.
    But this year, many states and counties have pulled the plug due to Covid-19. And that's bad news for politicians, who flock to fairs in search of crowds.
    Bush talks shop at the Illinois State Fair in August 1992.
    In pre-Covid-19 days, presidential nominees could hopscotch across several states a day to maximize flesh-pressing opportunities at packed fairgrounds. Even townies like Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry in 2004 show up in an attempt to claim heartland credentials. Ahead of the caucuses in Iowa, long-shot White House dreamers are usually spotted munching something fried on a stick at the fair.
    But no politician who ever lived can have loved state fairs like Bill Clinton, whom I once followed around at the Hopkinton State Fair in Contoocook, New Hampshire, during his wife Hillary's first White House bid. Fairs separate true extroverts from the pretenders who dread mingling with the masses, and Bill Clinton never met a voter he didn't want to convert.
    Clinton was in his element, marveling at cows and sheep that appeared unremarkable to an untrained eye, defying attempts by campaign workers and Secret Service agents to move him on. His eyes really lit up when he saw a massive pumpkin, prompting a lesson on competitive fruit growing for reporters. Of course, Clinton, a polymath, was an expert on the subject, after growing up with watermelon competitions in his native Arkansas.
    "That's the biggest pumpkin I've ever seen," the 42nd President said with a look of joy and wonder.
    The Clintons at the 92nd Annual Hopkinton State Fair, September 2007 in Contoocook, New Hampshire.

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