Will Grassroots Movements Change the Political Discourse in Iowa?

The Iowa State Fair used to be campaign gold for presidential candidates, an event National Public Radio’s “On Point” host Tom Ashbrook has called a “campaign launching pad,” a picture perfect opportunity to meet thousands of likely caucus-goers, eat fried pork chops on a stick and bask in the glow of a national media spotlight brighter than buttered sweet corn shining in the summer sun.

But ever since 2011, when Mitt Romney was heckled by Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement activists and made his “corporations are people, my friend” gaffe, a campaign appearance at the Iowa State Fair has brought as much risk as reward.

Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton understands this. She attended the Iowa State Fair on August 15 this year for photo ops and staged appearances but skipped the Des Moines Register’s Soapbox stage altogether, likely fearing an unscripted moment that could knock her campaign off message.


“It’s time for those running for office to answer the critical questions of our community.”


Two days later, on August 17, Wisconsin governor and GOP presidential candidate Scott Walker found out the hard way the power that citizen activists have to turn campaign launch pads into bottle rocket duds. More than 50 home health-care workers were bused in from Madison and Milwaukee by SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin and disrupted an Iowa State Fair speech Walker gave in front of hundreds of everyday Iowans.

The unionized “Fight for $15” workers followed Walker around the fairgrounds for hours and photobombed his stops with dozens of bright yellow-and-black signs that read, “Warning: Don’t let Scott Walker do to America what he did to Wisconsin.” Walker’s supporters fought back, but the ensuing spectacle only helped to generate even more media headlines.

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