4 Days, 20 Democrats. Who Won the Iowa State Fair?

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With so many presidential candidates at the Iowa State Fair last weekend, we needed a sophisticated system to rate their performances wooing voters ahead of this winter’s caucuses.

Something that captured the challenge of eating a turkey leg, photogenically. And taking dozens of selfies in the burning Iowa sun. And mastering the perfect Ferris wheel face.

Our answer? A corn dog scale. 1 for no mustard. 4 for all the trimmings. Iowans get it.

The Food

For politicians, much of the fair revolves around one central question: Are you brave enough to be photographed eating a corn dog? Iowans are fiercely proud of their fried delicacies, most served on a stick. They expect their candidates to eat. A lot.

Jordan Gale for The New York Times

Unlike his rivals, there were no stop-and-chats for Mr. Sanders. The Vermont senator power-walked through the fairgrounds, surrounded by media, occasionally giving a wave. Forget about talking to voters — Mr. Sanders didn’t even slow his pace as he grumpily ate a corn dog.

Jordan Gale for The New York Times

It isn’t easy being green at the state fair, an event renowned for porky specialities like bacon-wrapped pig wings. Mr. Booker, a vegan, bee-lined for the “Veggie-Table,” a truck serving a variety of deep-fried vegetables. He indulged in fried pickles and a “golden” fried PB&J on a stick.

Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Ms. Klobuchar has cast herself as a teller of hard truths. That goes for state fairs, too. “Now, I’m off to see the butter cow and pretend it’s as good,” she told voters from St. Paul, Minn., who came up to discuss the superiority of their state fair. Even Ms. Klobuchar’s choice of food reflected a subtle snub: Cheese curds, a Minnesota fair speciality. (A Klobuchar spokeswoman later said the senator spent nine hours at the fair and enjoyed it, including her stop at the butter cow.)

Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Mr. Yang hit the food trucks harder than any other candidate at the fair, ordering lemonade and a corn dog. As the grand finale, he tackled a giant, glossy turkey leg. “I’m a big fan of Renaissance festivals,” said Mr. Yang, estimating that this particular leg was likely the 18th he had ever eaten.

The Look

Everyone was trying to convey a look that said, “I belong here, near this cow made of dairy product, in my casual weekend look — but also I could be president.” Here’s the best and worst of the candidates’ fairgoing fashion.

Erin Schaff/The New York Times

What is Uncle Joe without his aviator sunnies? Fairgoers did not have to find out. He didn’t eat a corn dog or even see the butter cow. He wore khakis. But he had his shades.

Rachel Mummey for The New York Times

Yes, she paired it with jeans, but Ms. Gabbard wasn’t about to give up her signature look: a red blazer with pushed up sleeves. It wasn’t exactly that Aloha spirit, but it definitely was Ms. Gabbard.

Alex Edelman/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Ms. Gillibrand went full flare for the fair. A straw hat, flowered dress and flats. Who rides a Ferris wheel in heels, after all? And of course, no 2020 look is complete without some liberal political swag: A “Moms Demand Action” tote bag from the gun-safety town hall happening just a few miles away.

The Pitch

None of the candidates committed the kind of major fair gaffe that can haunt a candidacy. But from their speeches at the state fair soapbox to their time flipping pork chops at a tent sponsored by the state’s pork producers, only a few truly broke out from the pack.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Mr. Steyer took a principled climate change stand on the soapbox — and off. As he walked off the stage, an intern offered him a cold bottle of water. Mr. Steyer’s reply: “I don’t use water bottles.” A water fountain was quickly found.

Maddie McGarvey for The New York Times

Ms. Harris asked the question everyone really wants to know. “Is there an actual soapbox?” she wondered to an aide. The answer was no. Still, she persevered, particularly at the grill, where she eagerly shared her favorite pork chop recipe: Ancho chilies, minced garlic, salt, pepper and paprika.

Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Mr. Yang defined his campaign around one policy: A monthly $1,000 paycheck for all Americans. At the fair, he handed out another kind of goodie: free lemonade for all around him. Three corn dogs for being on brand!

Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Ms. Warren spoke for a little more than 10 minutes at the soapbox but took more than four times as long to walk the short distance to the exit, as she struggled to make her way through the crush of fans. Thousands listened to her address before mobbing her for selfies, signatures and pinkie swears.

The Posse

Sure, young kids can really up the cute quotient on a campaign web site. But it can get considerably less cute when the kids are actually present. This field features more candidates with young children than any in history, which meant juggling voters with demands for roller coasters and more funnel fries.

Rachel Mummey for The New York Times

When Mr. Castro took his children on a tour of the cattle barns, Cristián, 4, wondered if the family could get a cow. Mr. Castro did not make any bovine commitments. We doubt he’s likely to change his mind: While many fairgoers enjoyed ice cream and fried cheese and other dairy products, Mr. Castro later found his shoe in contact with another cow product.

Tom Brenner for The New York Times

Mr. Ryan was eager to fulfill a campaign promise to his son, Brady: It’s not a good fair “unless your kid pukes,” he told reporters before arriving. The 5-year-old seemed well on his way, eating an entire corn dog, a root beer float, a fried cheese curd and some lemonade. Running for president is tough. But managing a sugared-up child? That’s truly impressive.

Brian Snyder/Reuters

Ms. Gillibrand’s son Henry, 11, was the envy of the younger set when he won a life-size blue stuffed sloth, promptly dubbed Blueberry. Henry, reported his mother, is “very lucky.” Not so much his good-natured father, Jonathan, who won the task of schlepping the sloth around the fair.

The Rest

Some people didn’t win but are worth a mention for their standout moments.

Erin Schaff/The New York Times

“Oh my God, this is amazing. I’m a big lover of roller coasters and all kind of rides,” said Mr. Booker, as he rode the Grand Wheel. “Can we rock this? Do you think we can rock it? Can we do the roller coaster?”

Jordan Gale for The New York Times

Mr. Bullock held a friendly race down the slide with his family.

Erin Schaff/The New York Times

“This is a harbinger of things to come, I won the pig, all things are possible,” said Mr. de Blasio, after a game of Skee-Ball. “I have the power of the pig now.”

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