It's vast, it's crowded, it's fattening and it's fun. "Nothing Compares to the Iowa State Fair." The slogan is aptly deserved.
The fair is held in Des Moines, Iowa, on a 400-acre tract of land situated next to 160 acres of campgrounds. While more than 100,000 people attended the fair this past Friday, the crowds were manageable.
The first Iowa State Fair was held in 1854 in Fairfield. These days, more than a million people per year attend during its 10-day run. It began this year on Aug. 21, the same day as the first Iowa Republican presidential debate, which was held last Thursday in nearby Ames.
Last weekend, the Republican contenders visited the fair, which even attracted ever-perennial and ever-potential candidate Sarah Palin.
This year marked the 100th anniversary of the butter cow. Unless you've seen it, it's hard to imagine the life-sized, 600-pound sculpture of a cow made of Iowa butter. Literally a "butter cow." According to the Iowa State Fair's website, the cow "would butter 19,200 slices of toast and take an average person two lifetimes to consume."
For those concerned about sustainability, "much of the butter is recycled and reused for up to 10 years." Here's hoping there's no toast being spread with this butter. The close-up view and picture of our family in front of the world-famous butter cow made the 15-minute wait worthwhile.
Other fair attractions included pumpkins so large that a forklift was used to move them around. Numerous animals were present: cows, pigs, chickens, goats, ostriches and more. There were agricultural pavilions and exhibits, but what captured my eye and appetite were the numerous food trucks and stalls that sold a plethora of fair food. The stock fair items were present -- funnel cakes, lemonade and cotton candy.
But the Iowa State Fair is known for its remarkable fried foods, most often eaten on a stick. This year's new attraction was fried butter on a stick, which I did without. I did, however, try the pork chop on a stick, chicken lips on a stick (fried chicken breast covered with hot sauce) and fried Oreos.
The pork chop was my favorite, but then it was homegrown Iowa pork.
On occasion, Republican presidential contenders could be spotted walking through the fairground. They were most often surrounded by a gaggle of reporters.
Walking part of the time through the fair with my father, Republican candidate Newt Gingrich, provided me with a sliver of appreciation for the ongoing media scrutiny. In front of him were photographers and videographers, walking backwards (and often walking into people by accident). Beside him were reporters and bloggers trying to get a quote from the candidate that would make news and improve their careers. Trialing him were staff and voters.
It felt a bit more like a zoo or a circus than a fair.
My husband, my two children and I also attended the debate, which was held at Iowa State University and sponsored by Fox News, The Washington Examiner and the Republican Party of Iowa. The debate location was in the C.Y. Stephens Auditorium, with the press and spin room (for post-debate media coverage) located next door in the Hilton Coliseum.
The debate was marked by confrontations between Tim Pawlenty and Michele Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum and Ron Paul. Instead of swinging at rivals, Gingrich took a swing at Fox newsman Chris Wallace and the rest of the news media when Wallace asked, "How do you respond to people who say that your campaign has been a mess so far?"
"Well, let me say, first of all, Chris, that I took seriously (moderator) Bret (Baier)'s injunction to put aside the talking points, and I wish you would put aside the 'gotcha' questions," Gingrich responded, to applause. He finished his answer with: "I intend to run on ideas ... I'd love to see the rest of tonight's debate asking us about what we would do to lead an America whose president has failed to lead, instead of playing Mickey Mouse games."
This week, after the debate and Iowa straw poll, Pawlenty is out of the race and Texas Governor Rick Perry has joined the group of Republican contenders.
Republican presidential primaries -- nothing compares.