Yes, there’s a lot of food, but plenty of politics too at the state fair


Although Tom Weiler is not running for office, he has enough political knowledge to plan to spend every day at Minnesota State Fair.

Weiler was a submariner for 20 years before a serious illness forced him to retire from U.S. Navy. He then challenged Rep. Dean Phillips to be the 3 rd congressional District, which includes many of Minneapolis’s west, north and south suburbs.

John Weiler, Weiler’s older brother, manned a cardboard submarine that was stationed at the fair’s Minnesota Republican Party Headquarters. He was eager to promote his brother to interested passersby. Weiler’s father was also present to assist.

Weiler, who was behind Phillips in fundraising for political cash, joked that Phillips’ relatives were the only campaign staffers that he could afford. Through the fair, he said he wanted to be known and to increase his fundraising.

Weiler stated that “a lot of people will hopefully come home and check out my website and learn more about me,”

The state fair attracts many people to its rides, food and entertainment, but for state officials, it is a tradition that they will not let go.

Tim Lindberg, University of Minnesota political science professor, said that “slighting the fair” is one of the best ways of making enemies of Minnesotans.

This may explain why Democratic Sens. Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar make the effort to attend the fair, even though their terms are over.

Smith stated that the State Fair was one of his favorite events of the year. “The fair gives elected officials the opportunity to meet people from across the state and learn about the issues that are important to them.”

Smith doesn’t have to worry about the impending election. However, Smith will need to be concerned about the governorship and all statewide offices. All state House and Senate seats, as well all seats in U.S. House of Representatives, will be on November’s ballot. This year’s fair ends on Sept. 5. It is a significant political event.

Phillips was away at his sister’s Wyoming wedding, so he missed the fair’s first few days. Phillips plans to make up the difference.

Phillips stated, “Professionally there’s no better spot to meet people.”

The DFL headquarters, which sells or gives away political paraphernalia like its GOP counterpart, is used by many Democratic candidates. The DFL’s top seller is a T-shirt with Roe Roe, Roe Your Vote. A free carboard fan with the message “Walz failed” is another popular item at GOP headquarters.

Phillips, however, has his own booth and is giving away wildflower seeds packets that read “Let’s Grow Together American”, a slogan meant to support the lawmaker’s centrist-themed campaign.

Phillips stated that he has been attending the state fair for 52 consecutive years. He is proud of a photograph of him at his first one, which shows a child with blond hair and riding a tractor.

Rep. Dean Phillips, at his first State Fair, 1972.

He is the only U.S. House candidate to have a booth at the fair.

He said that it was worth it, as “The Great Minnesota Get Together” celebrates something that happens too often in the country.

Phillips stated, “It’s an amazing stew of humanity.”

Restrictions on campaigning

Governor. Tim Walz and Scott Jensen (his Republican opponent) spend every afternoon at GOP headquarters, or at his booth in the middle of the fair.

Jensen’s greeting of voters and meeting with them is interrupted each day at 2:45 p.m. by a parade that passes dangerously close to his booth. The marching bands drown out his salutations.

Joel Hanson, a spokesperson for the Jensen campaign, said that the candidate’s exposure increases exponentially because of all the selfies he took with potential voters. The photos are posted on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.

Hanson stated that Jensen can’t be found anywhere else.

MinnPost photo by Elizabeth Dunbar
Scott Jensen’s greeting of voters and meeting with them is interrupted daily at 2 p.m. when a parade passes dangerously close to his booth.

It’s not just Minnesota politicians that have sought to be supported at the fair. The fair saw one of the most important political events, September 2, 1901. Theodore Roosevelt, then-Vice President, presented his foreign policy in a speech where he stated for the first time that the United States should speak softly and have a big stick.

According to Lindberg from the University of Minnesota, the fair comes at a crucial time in the political cycle. It is after the primaries, and during the “early ramping-up for the fall election.”

It’s still not a free-for-all political event. The fair’s candidates are corralled just like the animals on display.

Minnesota State Agricultural Society governs the fair and restricts politicians’ activities to “an assigned fixed place or licensed commercial booth space.” Candidates have taken that to mean they must be at arms length from their political booths. Kim Crockett was the Republican candidate to secretary of state. She stayed in the sun just outside of the GOP headquarters entrance to meet as many people as she could.

Phillips uses a more expansive definition of the statute and says it bans solicitation outside of a political booth. He said, “I walk at the fair.”

MinnPost photo taken by Joe Kimball
Gov. Tim Walz greeting State Fair attendees.

The GOP headquarters is enclosed, but the DFL headquarters is open. Fairgoers can see who is there, unlike the GOP headquarters which is enclosed. A good number of people lined up to meet with Keith Ellison, Minnesota Attorney General.

Some DFL candidates held small booths in party headquarters. Jennifer Schulz, a state representative, tried to unseat Rep. Peter Stauber (R-8 , th).

Schulz stated that although the northern district is not far from the fair she has met potential voters and others who live in the Twin Cities, but have cabins within the 8 th, and are eager to get to know her.

Schulz stated, “I love to have a chance to speak to people.”

The fair is not just for the big parties. As does the Independence Party, the Libertarian Party also has a booth.

Philp Fuehrer (Independence Party state chair), said that it was all about “the visibility.”

Fuehrer stated, “It lets people know that we are still here.” “It allows people to see that there is another option.”

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