Let’s rewind what feels like 10,000 years, all the way back to 2019.
On February 10, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar announced her presidential bid amid a blizzard at Boom Island Park in Minneapolis.
“Bad timing. By the end of her speech she looked like a Snowman(woman)!” President Donald Trump tweeted from his since-banned Twitter account. Klobuchar, who tactically deployed “humor” to distinguish her candidacy, would clap back again and again and again with a barb about Trump’s hair. (Other factors that separated her from the vast field of contenders included her rejection of progressive policies like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal.)
Klobuchar’s run would experience lows, like BuzzFeed’s exposé on her allegedly nasty treatment of staffers and renewed scrutiny over her tough-on-crime prosecutorial past. There would also be highs, like when the New York Times Ed Board bizarrely endorsed her and Sen. Elizabeth Warren in January 2020 and the #Klomentum news cycle that followed her third-place finish in New Hampshire.
And, of course, there was the Iowa State Fair.
At the time, in August of ’19, Klobuchar was polling at around 3%, far behind rivals Joe Biden, Warren, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, and Mayor Pete, the latter of whom would controversially edge out Sanders in the Iowa contest. On the ground, as hogs chugged Bud Lights and butter became cows, Klobes faced a strategic dilemma when addressing whether the Minnesota State Fair reigned supreme over Iowa’s. Showcase authenticity by celebrating your state’s beloved fair? Or opt for wishy-washy pandering, hoping to not offend Iowa voters on their home turf?
Bring Me the News called her out, writing: “But come on, Amy, you’re Minnesota’s senator. The answer to the question ‘Which State Fair is better?’ should be delivered almost instantly: ‘Which State Fair is be…MINNESOTA’S.'” Andrew Zimmern, who we may or may not be feuding with over Pronto Pups right now, chimed in as well:
The most full-throated defense of our fair came via local comedian Brandi Brown, who pressed Klobuchar face-to-face at the 2019 Minnesota State Fair. “They’re both good,” Klobuchar responded to Brown’s hard-charging questioning. (Hours earlier, WCCO’s Jason DeRusha held Klobuchar’s feet to fire over the issue, eliciting: “‘…What I can say Jason is what unites us is more important than what divides us. We have good things about both fairs.'”)
Anyway, Brown’s definitive account of the ordeal—”We Must Never Forget That Amy Klobuchar Is A Cowardly State Fair Centrist“—can and should be read over at Defector. Klobuchar ended up scoring one Iowa delegate. She would win just six more throughout the primary, which she exited in March 2020 as the Democratic establishment rallied behind Biden.
Fast-forward to last week. Though Klobuchar’s presidential ambitions may still be bubbling, I figured enough time had passed and the senator might be willing to laugh about her State Fair cowardice. I sent an email with the following subject line to her lead comms person on Wednesday: “On-the-record opportunity: Amy declares MN State Fair best in nation?”
In it, I wrote:
“As I’m sure you’re aware, Sen. Klobuchar caught (and continues to catch) some tongue-in-cheek flak for her 2019 refusal to declare the MN State Fair the best in the country: https://defector.com/we-must-never-forget-that-amy-klobuchar-is-a-cowardly-state-fair-centrist/
Here’s what I’m proposing: A 5-minute phone call where I’ll afford Sen. Klobuchar the opportunity to state what I think we all know she believes: That the MN State Fair is, in fact, the best state fair in the U.S.
The resulting story would be written in good fun, and I think show Amy addressing — and closing the door on — this pesky matter with good humor. I’ll also ask her about her favorite fair foods, activities, memories, etc.
Would love to make this happen! I’m free… basically whenever.”
I followed up one day later, promising the exchange would be a “in-on-the-joke PR layup for Amy.” (Not my proudest journalistic moment, but hey, I wanted the interview.)
I sent one last follow-up email on Friday, stressing that we’re running out of fair time. (Worth noting: Klobuchar was in an actual war zone earlier in the week, so maybe her PR team’s patience for silly requests from obscure news sites was low.)
Is the deathless, seemingly trivial State Fair issue instructive on anything substantive? Not in the same way Klobuchar’s allegiance to the elite donor class is. Or in the way her role in wrongfully imprisoning a Black teenager is. Or in the way her pro-biz defense of pizza sauce as a vegetable is.
But it does speak to a certain kind of politician, one whose professional ambitions undergird every calculated, focus-grouped decision. Moreover, it speaks to a lack of awareness of how modern voters process authenticity, especially in the realm of home-state boosterism. The polished, glad-handing retail politics of the past doesn’t resonate the way it used to; Democrat John Fetterman, an unapologetically proud Pennsylvanian, teeing off on his phony, non-local senate rival does. More than anything, it’s frustrating when your leader in D.C. refuses you universal healthcare, refuses you meaningful climate action, and then refuses to acknowledge a small, dumb, rather meaningless yet still important truth: The Minnesota State Fair rules.
We’ll follow-up again with our senator next summer.