Covid-19 erased the country fair -- a politician's paradise

Then-Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry with cows at the Minnesota State Fair in St. Paul, Minnesota, in August 2004.

This was excerpted from the July 24 edition of CNN's Meanwhile in America, the daily email about US politics for global readers. Click here to read past editions and subscribe.

(CNN)It's not fair.

This is low on the list of this year's tragedies, but the pandemic has devastated one of the most colorful rituals of American life: state and county fairs. The sprawling expos draw millions, with agricultural shows, horse jumping, carnival rides, country music, rock concerts, vintage vehicle displays and other local delights. In other words, paradise for politicians.
You haven't lived until you've watched the pig racing circuit that tours fairgrounds all summer. Or played kiss the pig — hopefully not a sweaty porker fresh off the racetrack — at the Delaware State Fair. In Alaska, you can enter homegrown vegetables in a giant cabbage contest. Try riding the mechanical bull in cowboy country in North Dakota, or gather round in Maryland to watch cows giving birth, like it's a Little League game.
    At the Iowa State Fair, catch up with the sports of pigeon rolling (world record: 1000 feet) and competitive butter carving. Dubious refreshments abound: At a recent edition of the California State Fair, punters devoured deep-fried, bacon-wrapped peanut butter cups. For a real artery clogger, try the Mississippi State Fair's Krispy Kreme burger: a beef patty between two glazed doughnuts.
      But this year, many states and counties have pulled the plug due to Covid-19. And that's bad news for politicians, who flock to fairs in search of crowds.
        Bush talks shop at the Illinois State Fair in August 1992.
        In pre-Covid-19 days, presidential nominees could hopscotch across several states a day to maximize flesh-pressing opportunities at packed fairgrounds. Even townies like Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry in 2004 show up in an attempt to claim heartland credentials. Ahead of the caucuses in Iowa, long-shot White House dreamers are usually spotted munching something fried on a stick at the fair.
        But no politician who ever lived can have loved state fairs like Bill Clinton, whom I once followed around at the Hopkinton State Fair in Contoocook, New Hampshire, during his wife Hillary's first White House bid. Fairs separate true extroverts from the pretenders who dread mingling with the masses, and Bill Clinton never met a voter he didn't want to convert.
          Clinton was in his element, marveling at cows and sheep that appeared unremarkable to an untrained eye, defying attempts by campaign workers and Secret Service agents to move him on. His eyes really lit up when he saw a massive pumpkin, prompting a lesson on competitive fruit growing for reporters. Of course, Clinton, a polymath, was an expert on the subject, after growing up with watermelon competitions in his native Arkansas.
          "That's the biggest pumpkin I've ever seen," the 42nd President said with a look of joy and wonder.
          The Clintons at the 92nd Annual Hopkinton State Fair, September 2007 in Contoocook, New Hampshire.

          What five questions would you ask?

          What questions should a US president be able to answer? We asked and you delivered.
          Jimmy from Uruguay went practical: "Under which extreme circumstances would you be willing to press the nuclear button?" he asked. We would also like to know the answer.
          Some focused on basic knowledge about the country. "How much does a kilo of cheese (or some common American good) cost?" asked Islay from New Zealand. "Name one US author who has won the Nobel Prize in literature," Odd in Norway asked -- a question past presidents might have jumped to answer, though Trump has shown public interest in only one literary great and he's German: "All Quiet on the Western Front" author EM Remarque.
          Several questions seemed rather pointed: Regina and several other readers thought the president should be able to answer whether Finland is part of the Russian Federation -- a question Trump himself has posed, according to his former national security adviser John Bolton. Mohammed wanted to know the president's "plans to resuscitate the economy of your country amid Covid-19 or post Covid-19." And Chih-an and Cormac asked, "Do you still have any conscience left?" and "What is truth?" respectively.
          Bonnie in Israel set low and high bars, asking for any president to be able to "give a dissertation on the ancient Babylonian Empire with particular reference to architecture, literature, law and social conditions -- OR give the first name of George Washington."
            And Jonathan in Texas noted that a fundamental place to start with any American leader should be a basic civics test. "Hell, at least make them take the same test any person who wants to become a citizen has to take," he wrote. (You can test your own knowledge of US history and government with the 100 official USCIS naturalization test questions here.)

            Opening day for baseball

            Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases throws out the ceremonial first pitch prior to the game between the New York Yankees and the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on July 23, 2020 in Washington, DC.