WASHINGTON, August 15, 2015 – There is a prank we Midwesterners play on politicians coming to visit our part of the country, and, at risk of giving it all away, I need to talk to you Americans who haven’t been privy to our regional joke:
At risk of being expelled from my status as a natural-born Midwesterner, I have to warn those unsuspecting Southerners, Northeasterners and Lone Texans who are compelled to venture to Iowa or the rest of God’s Country for a political event.
Now that the Iowa State Fair is in full swing, presidential candidates who hail from relatively innocent locales like New York City and Miami will fly into the Midwest for their obligatory visit to the fair.
They will pay homage to the Butter Cow, as no presidential candidate in history has ever won the presidency without gazing on that smooth visage of bovine magnificence. They will attempt to flip pork on the grill, and eat corn dogs, preferably the foot-long kind.
They are going to ask every candidate to eat a corndog, and it would be a vote-killer to turn them down. You can imagine the stir it would cause at the upcoming caucuses if their request were refused. Imagine the grumbling: “Don’t vote for him/her. She turned down a corn dog,” or “He didn’t have the common courtesy of visiting the Butter Cow. He’s not a serious contender.”
Standing in the back of the room, and out of your line of sight, will be an amazing group of aspiring papparazzi. They may be from Ames, Iowa, or they may have come all the way from Davenport, but they are there for one purpose: the Corn Dog Shot.
There is nothing less dignified than a photograph of a politician wrapping his or her mouth around a long brown fried object that remotely resembles a penis, and Iowans in particular take particular pride in preserving the first bite for posterity. It would surprise no Iowan if the fair hosted a corn dog photo competition, with the winning photographs placed in the Corn Dog Hall of Fame.
You would think that with all of those highly paid political advisors who possess the wisdom to make their candidate win, that the Corn Dog Shot would be passed by in favor of other more flattering images, like kissing babies or hugging grannies. That will not happen. They came all the way across the country from the land of palm trees and high-rises to get their picture taken trying to look as down-to-earth as John Kerry on a goose hunt, and they can’t back out of this photo opportunity.
That would be downright un-American.
The campaign staff will dress the candidate appropriately in the Iowan version of a square-dancing outfit. Ties will be abandoned for open-necked shirts and jeans, and dress shoes will be replaced with clod- hoppers. Some will wear ball caps. Hillary will wear pants. She always wears pants. There will be speeches that will soon be forgotten.
Inevitably some or all of the out-of-state visitors will step in something that they pick up during a tour of the cattle barn. Some of the more seasoned career politicians will quietly hire locals to steer them on a safe path while they are looking up and waving. The locals will be the ones looking down while they are looking toward the cameras. A lesson can be learned from the experience. Be careful what you’re stepping in.
Whenever Iowans see the iconic pandering photos of Bachmann or Perry from the campaign stops of 2012, they feel a great sense of satisfaction that they have cracked the perfect image of the candidates, made them human. This perception of the person in the running should not be ignored by the candidates in the 2016 campaign, or they stand to lose a huge segment of America to the one person in the race who exemplifies their values.
A sense of humor is essential this time around, and each of them should have a Midwesterner as an adviser. A candidate who is perceived as too citified or prissy, or who lacks the ability to laugh heartily at a well-placed joke, will go down in flames at the Iowa caucus. Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum performed well early on in the 2012 race due to their ability to appeal to grass-roots America, and there is no state more grass-roots than Iowa, smack-dab in the middle of the United States.
The Midwestern private joke will carry a huge segment of middle America on election day, and it has little to do with their position on the issues.
It’s corn dogs in 2016.