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It's A Party In Iowa — And Just About All The Candidates Are Invited


The center of the political universe right now is the state fair in Des Moines, Iowa. Nearly every presidential candidate is passing through. Today, the two candidates at the top of the polls dropped by - Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton. NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea is also at the fair, exactly where we'd expect to find him this time of year. Hi, Don.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Hi. I love the fair. But it is sunny. It is hot. It is 86 degrees, and it always feels 20 degrees hotter here, so...

VIGELAND: (Laughter).

GONYEA: But there it is.

VIGELAND: All right. So tell us what you're seeing so far today.

GONYEA: Well, let's start with the morning event. It was Hillary Clinton's trip to the fair. She arrived here with former senator Tom Harkin. He is a major figure in Democratic politics in this state. He's retired, but he's still a very big deal. They went to the Pork Producers tent. They had pork on a stick - a pork chop on a stick. They enjoyed some of the bonds. But listen. Wherever Hillary Clinton goes, questions about those emails and that email server follow her and no exception at the fair. She has been in Iowa the last couple of days really forcefully defending herself on that topic in speeches and everything. She just turned over her server this week. But here's what she said at the fair when asked about it.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: The facts are the same as they have been from the very beginning of these questions being raised. And most importantly, I never sent classified material on my email, and I never received any that was marked classified. So I'm going to let whatever this inquiry is go forward, and we'll, you know, await the outcome of it.

VIGELAND: All right. That was Hillary Clinton today at the State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa. Don, Donald Trump was there too, so the circus comes to the fair.

GONYEA: Yep, and it arrived at the fair in a helicopter with the word Trump emblazoned on the side. He didn't actually land on the fairgrounds. He landed at a ball field right next door. But then he came in and immediately attracted a huge throng of fairgoers who wanted to see him and get selfies - obviously a huge throng of reporters as well following him. He tried to go to the iconic butter cow. He was going to pay his respects, I guess, right?

VIGELAND: (Laughter).

GONYEA: And in what, a photo op? It was so crowded, he never got there. But he certainly made an impression here.

VIGELAND: Don, one of the mainstays of the fair is the soapbox. And this is where candidates stand on stage. They take whatever questions kind of come at them from the crowd. But Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are avoiding it. Do we know why?

GONYEA: They both skipped it. Trump has a simple answer. The Des Moines register, which sponsors the soapbox, has said bad things about him. They said he should drop out of the race, and they've been very critical. So he said, they're not relevant; why do I want to go to their soapbox?

And he also notes that not everybody goes, and it's true. Senator Clinton's not going. Rand Paul is not going this time. For Hillary Clinton, it might be different because you might remember Mitt Romney being heckled mercilessly at the soapbox. It's pretty fair to say that would've happened to Hillary Clinton as well. So she did a press conference here. She toured the barns. She ate the pork. But she did not stand on that stage to subject herself to potential abuse.

VIGELAND: All right. Then who was at the soapbox today?

GONYEA: Today we had Rick Santorum. We had Bernie Sanders. Sanders drew a huge crowd. Probably the best moment of the day - as he was speaking, Trump's helicopter flew overhead. Sanders apologized for not bringing his helicopter, got a big laugh, and it also played into his message nicely.

VIGELAND: All right. NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea talking to us from the Iowa State Fair. Don, thanks, and enjoy yourself.

GONYEA: All right. It's dinner time. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.
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