— -- It’s that time of year, again.
The time when White House hopefuls begin descending on the Iowa State Fair to deliver soapbox speeches, devour calorie-busting culinary inventions and court voters in the Hawkeye State, which hosts the nation’s first presidential caucuses in February.
While there’s no Iowa straw poll this year, the fair is a “contest” of sorts where candidates might have a breakthrough, or breakdown, moment while indulging in pork chop on a stick and fried butter.
Here’s a look at the top seven things to watch for at this year’s Iowa State Fair, which starts today and runs through Aug. 23:
1. Candidates and calories
Jeb Bush has lost 40 pounds on the paleo diet. Hillary Clinton has been doing yoga and watching her weight. With over 75 foods on a stick, who will give in to the temptation of a double bacon corn dog, the ultimate bacon brisket bomb or apple pie on a stick? Will some presidential candidates instead opt for “lighter” fare like Caprese salad on a stick? Who will indulge in beer that is colder than ice?
But all candidates will have to keep one thing in mind: In Iowa, pork is king. And one of the first tests of the presidential race is how well they can flip pork chops at the Iowa Pork Producers booth. Who will take a turn behind the grill? Will Ben Carson, who keeps a mostly meatless diet, give grilling a pork chop a try? In 2007, Mitt Romney famously flipped a chop too high and it landed on the ground – and we all know how that turned out.
2. The soapbox: Who’s going and who’s skipping
Most presidential candidates will wind their way through the fair and end up at the soapbox, hosted every year by the Des Moines Register, the state’s leading newspaper. The soapbox is a state fair tradition where political candidates address potential caucus-goers. It has been a scene of some defining moments in presidential campaigns. In 2011, Mitt Romney delivered a line that would haunt his presidential ambitions: “Corporations are people, my friend,” he said during a particularly heated exchange.
At least 20 presidential candidates have confirmed that they will deliver a speech at the soapbox. That’s not surprising. What is interesting is who is not making an appearance at the soapbox: Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. Clinton delivered a speech from the soapbox in 2007, but not this time, though she will attend. Barack Obama skipped the soapbox in 2007 and 2011.
3. The Donald takes Des Moines
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has been known to fly by helicopter or private plane to his campaign stops, and there have been rumors (unconfirmed by ABC News) that The Donald will arrive at the state fair by chopper, emblazoned with the Trump logo, of course. Trump is said to even be hoping to create his own attraction at the fair by offering helicopter rides to kids, but fair officials said that was not allowed.
4. Super Saturday at the State Fair
Beware of the mob scene that may occur Saturday when both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will likely be at the fair at the same time. This is the first time the two will be in the same space as presidential rivals. As Trump pointed out at the first Republican presidential debate, Clinton attended his wedding. Who will steal the spotlight from whom? Will it be a repeat of 2011 when Sarah Palin attracted a storm of media and fair-goers?
5. Behold the Butter Sculptures
Fairgoers will be greeted by the Iowa State Fair’s famous butter cow. The sculpture of the cow is made with 600 pounds of butter, enough butter to toast 19,200 slices of toast. Don’t try and take a bite though. Most of the butter used in the sculpture is reused for up to 10 years. In addition to the cow, some of your favorite characters from the game Monopoly will also be converted into butter sculptures.
6. Meet Arlette, the queen of the Iowa State Fair food contests
This year’s Iowa State Fair Parade grand marshal is Arlette Hollister. Hollister, 85, has overseen the food competitions at the fair for 30 years, expanding the number of food divisions to 218 with a prize purse of $76,000, according to the Des Moines Register. Hollister is instrumental in the large and diverse menu at the fair, and candidates may want to meet her.
7. The Wing Ding Dinner
We’re still six months from the Iowa caucuses and with no straw poll this year, candidates are using the fair as a jumping off point for other campaign events throughout the state. Democratic hopefuls will attend the traditional Wing Ding dinner in Clear Lake, Iowa, Friday. From there, Bernie Sanders will launch a campaign swing through Dubuque, Iowa. Hillary Clinton will visit Dubuque, too. Scott Walker will host a bunch of events in Iowa next week following his time at the fair. Ted Cruz has been promoting a religious liberty rally that will fall on the same day he visits the soapbox.