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A Fair Day for Politicking

DES MOINES -- With the Iowa straw poll a day away, most of the Republican candidates for president -- minus some heavy hitters -- descended on the Iowa state fair for a day of politicking among the masses. Front-runner Mitt Romney started his day in Ogden and Nevada, Iowa. But by noon, he was sweating it out with the rest of them, with a photo op at the pork producers tent and a brief speech on the Grand Avenue concourse, not far from the fried Oreo and fried Twinkie stand.

"Gosh, what a wonderful day this is," he told the crowd of about 100 after signing autographs and having his picture taken with little kids. The former Massachusetts governor also engaged in obligatory politician-bashing: "I'm not a lifelong politician," he bragged.

The day's campaigning at the fair was intense, especially considering that no delegates are at stake in the contest and that several major candidates are not participating. For Romney, and the others who are competing, the straw poll is a rehearsal for the January caucuses here, a "full body workout" as a Romney aide put it.

Dave Jamison, the treasurer in Scott County, introduced Romney at the morning event in Nevada, about 30 miles north of Des Moines. His message: The straw poll will weed out the weak candidates, leaving only the strongest to head into the fall campaign season this year. "We're not going to pick who's going to be president or not," he said. "But we'll certainly pick who's not. A few thousand people in Iowa are going to pick who's not going to be the leader of the free world....[Tomorrow] do you fish, golf, find an air-conditioned mall or something? Or do you go to the straw poll? We want you to go to the straw poll."

As for spending the day at the fair, perhaps it will turn out to be a good strategy. If you are looking for people willing to come to Ames on Saturday and brave 100-degree heat in the middle of the day, what better place to look than the state fair, which advertises that one million people will visit during its two-week run.

Just about the entire Romney clan has descended on Iowa to help their dad in what has become a necessary victory at Ames. He campaigned at the fair with his wife, four of his five adult sons and seven grandkids. With Rudy Giuliani and John McCain not participating, Romney cannot afford to lose to any of the lesser-known candidates, who have spent a fraction of the money he has.

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee gave his pitch to fairgoers earlier in the day, then spent the day at the fair giving radio interviews and shaking hands. He stopped by the AARP booth, too.

California Rep. Duncan hunter was spotted wearing a wide-brimmed cowboy hat. Rumor had it that he had hired an Elvis impersonator to pass out ice cream to the hot fairgoers.

Meanwhile, Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo could be found on the airwaves, with radio ads repeatedly attacking his rivals on the issue of immigration.

Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback did not visit the fair Friday, going instead to the famed "Field of Dreams" before a scheduled rally at his headquarters in the evening. His campaign, which is counting on support from conservatives, did offer interviews with Bobby Schindler, the brother of the late Terri Schiavo, whose husband fought an extended battle to take her off life support.

--Michael D. Shear

By Washington Post editors  |  August 10, 2007; 5:26 PM ET
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