Candidates find state fair a hot spot for campaigning

Politicians and volunteers found ways to attract voters’ attention.

Faith Holschbach

Minnesota politicians campaigned near the St. Paul campus at the Minnesota State Fair this year, getting their message out through gimmicks such as temporary tattoos and even a “governor-on-a-stick.”

The state fair is a hot spot for political campaigning and many candidates said it’s their chance to become a familiar name to voters in the November election.

Volunteers for Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s re-election campaign distributed paper fans with a picture of Pawlenty to fair-goers in front of two larger-than-life nylon Pawlenty replicas that flanked the booth.

Meanwhile, at an Independence Party booth, University graduate Joel Spoonheim, a secretary of state candidate, handed out temporary tattoos with the party’s logo: a buffalo marked with “IP.”

“The buffalo is native to the United States, the plains – it’s a real Minnesota animal,” Spoonheim said.

The Independence Party also used red and blue Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em fighting robots at each booth to illustrate the impasse Democrats and Republicans are at in government, Spoonheim said. He said Independents can bring forth an idea without typical party rivalries getting in the way.

There are 21 political booths in operation, according to the state fair’s Commercial Sales and Marketing Department. Six booths are dedicated to parties and the remaining 15 are run by individual candidates.

Jeff Johnson, the Republican-endorsed candidate for attorney general, said campaigning at the fair would help the thousands of people he sees each day recognize his name in the November elections.

“There is no better place to be in Minnesota to meet people and it’s fun!” he said.

The Democratic Party had a large gazebo-like structure at the fair where DFL-endorsed candidates had their own tables.

Keith Ellison, candidate for Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional District, said he chose to stay at the main location rather than having his own booth.

“I do have my own booth as a DFL-endorsed candidate,” he said as he pointed to the party’s State Fair headquarters.

Ellison said the fair is a time to show solidarity with neighbors.

“I love being around Minnesotans because they are optimists; they care about today and tomorrow,” he said.

In his three visits to the fair, Ellison said he spoke with a lot of students and is personally interested in keeping tuition down and supporting students because “they often lead social change.”

Becky Lourey, a DFL candidate for governor, is one of many non-endorsed candidates with a presence at the fair.

“The fair is a great place to get people thinking about politics,” she said. “It’s a great time to enjoy one another.”

Even politicians who don’t face elections this year were at the fair.

Republican U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman’s booth focused on renewable energy, complete with a map of alternative energy sources throughout Minnesota.

Political science and global studies junior Teresa Tran volunteered at Coleman’s booth Thursday. She said her contribution was to answer visitors’ questions and demonstrate how ethanol is made.

The fair was not without controversy, however. This year’s highest-profile debate, the MPR-sponsored gubernatorial debate, was canceled after neither Pawlenty nor General Attorney Mike Hatch, the DFL-endorsed candidate, would participate.

Pawlenty campaign spokesman Mike Krueger said the debates would not have been in a “constructive format.”

Jon Youngdahl, Hatch’s campaign manager, said Hatch declined to participate after Pawlenty did.

“Hatch is willing to debate Pawlenty at any time,” he said. “If Pawlenty is at a debate, then other candidates will be there as well, and we will debate with them then.”

Melanie Soucheray, Independance Party campaign spokeswoman, said Minnesotans lose when candidates campaign only over airwaves.

“We are very disappointed that Pawlenty and Hatch are not willing to put themselves before the people of Minnesota and allow them to evaluate the candidates who would be their governor,” she said.