Iowa State Fairgrounds closed; Polk County rents dorm for COVID-19 recovery

John Morrissey is a freelance writer in Des Moines. -promoted by Laura Belin

Iowa State Fair officials closed the fairgrounds on the east side of Des Moines to the public on March 18 and are readying the 4H dormitory near Dean Avenue to house homeless people in the Des Moines area who may come down with minor symptoms of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) infections.

These plans were formalized after Polk County officials were briefed recently with World Health Organization estimates about the spread of COVID-19. If it gets a foothold in the metro area, as many as 34,000 central Iowans could fall ill, and perhaps 1,500 will need intensive care treatment, said Polk County Board of Supervisors Chair Matt McCoy. He repeated the call from local and state officials for people to stay home and avoid contacts that may spread the disease. McCoy said he and other leaders are confident the area’s health care facilities can handle the challenge if the virus infections do not all occur at once.

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Weekend open thread: Olympics and Iowa State Fair edition

Who else is sad that the Olympics are ending today? Although we’re not big sports fans, all screen time limits in our household go out the window during the winter or summer Olympics. We’ve been watching for hours every day, despite the poor quality of NBC’s broadcasts. I was spoiled by living in Europe during the 1996 and 2000 Olympics. State broadcast networks provided remarkably thorough coverage, not only of their own country’s athletes, with no commercial breaks. I was also able to watch some of the more obscure events, which don’t receive a lot of attention here. Viewership of the Rio Olympics on NBC was reportedly down 17 percent from the London Olympics in 2012, a “nightmare” for the network. Here’s an idea: try more live coverage of more competitors in more events, with less schlock passing for “human interest” features.

While the Olympics are arguably the greatest show on earth, the greatest show in Iowa is certainly the state fair, which also wraps up today. A summer cold kept my family away from the fairgrounds last week, so my kids and I only visited the fair once this year. We still enjoyed the day enormously, and I have no regrets about not trying to follow Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence around. I enclose a few photos below. I didn’t attempt to take a picture of the guy on the midway wearing a “Hillary Clinton for Prison 2016” t-shirt.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome, especially any favorite moments from the Olympics or the state fair. The huge model train display near the giant slide is one of the most under-rated fair attractions in my opinion. Well worth $2 a person. Looking at a toy train set might not sound that interesting, but the scenes are elaborately constructed, and as you move along, there are lists of things to find in the model (a boy flying a kite, a beekeeper, Superman, a waterfall, etc.). It’s a fun game, and the air-conditioned building provides a nice refuge on a hot day. I recently learned that the central Iowa railroad group opens up this exhibit for free on the last Friday of every month from 7 to 9 pm.

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Weekend open thread: More Iowa Republicans throwing in with Trump

While Republican insiders across the country despair about the presidential race, dozens urging the Republican National Committee to stop investing in Donald Trump, others wishing in vain that Trump would drop out, and some even quitting their political jobs, Iowa’s most influential Republicans continue to stand with the GOP nominee.

This week, Governor Terry Branstad confirmed plans to advise Trump on policy; his major influencer Bruce Rastetter will reportedly do the same. In addition, two other well-known GOP operatives took on formal roles in Trump’s Iowa campaign. Jamie Johnson will be coalitions director and Jake Ketzner a senior advisor. Johnson is a veteran of Rick Santorum’s 2012 presidential bid. After a spell supporting Ted Cruz, he landed with Rick Perry’s short-lived campaign this cycle. An ordained minister, he will presumably focus on engaging evangelical Christians, a key constituency for Santorum in 2012 and for Cruz this year. Jake Ketzner managed Representative Steve King’s re-election campaign in 2012, the year he faced Christie Vilsack in a substantially redrawn district. Ketzner left Branstad’s staff for a lobbying job last summer and soon became a senior adviser to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s Iowa caucus campaign.

Why are more respectable Republicans joining what looks like a sinking ship? For one thing, the latest public polls show Trump running better in Iowa than in national polls or surveys in swing states with more diverse populations. So even if Trump gets blown out nationally, working on his campaign here might not be a liability, especially if he carries Iowa or loses by a relatively small margin. Also, hitching your wagon to a toxic nominee is less risky when your state’s governor, lieutenant governor, GOP U.S. senators and representatives are giving you cover. UPDATE: Forgot to mention that going all-in for Trump helped our state’s establishment secure a promise from the nominee that if he’s elected, the Iowa caucuses will remain first in the nominating calendar.

Neither Branstad nor any Republicans who represent Iowa in Congress have responded to my questions about worrying aspects of Trump’s candidacy. To my knowledge, only two GOP elected officials in Iowa have publicly ruled out voting for Trump: State Senator David Johnson and Hardin County Auditor Jessica Lara. Tips are welcome if readers know of other GOP officials willing to say #NeverTrump. I’ve sought comment from many whom I considered “likely suspects.”

Several experienced Iowa campaign operatives have said they won’t vote for the GOP nominee, including David Kochel, a former strategist for Mitt Romney and senior figure in Jeb Bush’s 2016 campaign. Justin Arnold, former state political director for Marco Rubio, explained in a March op-ed column for the Des Moines Register why he would not support Trump under any circumstances. He announced earlier this month that he has joined the direct mail and political consulting firm Majority Strategies. That company’s clients include U.S. Representative Rod Blum (IA-01) and at least one Iowa GOP state committee.

Joel Kurtinitis, a onetime staffer on Ron Paul’s presidential campaign and former Republican State Central Committee member, published a blistering commentary at The Blaze on Friday: Five Things You Can Never Say Again After Voting Trump. I enclose below excerpts from a piece that social conservatives might describe as “convicting.”

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton’s campaign continues to build a strong field operation in Iowa and other battleground states, while Trump’s ground game is remarkably weak and in some areas literally missing in action.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome. The Iowa State Fair opened on Thursday and runs through Sunday, August 21. A summer cold moving systematically through our household has so far kept us from the fairgrounds, but we will get there once or twice this week. Bleeding Heartland has previously published my best advice for enjoying the fair, especially in the company of young children. The schedule of candidates speaking at the Des Moines Register’s “soapbox” near the administration building is here. Like Brad Anderson, I was surprised Senator Chuck Grassley passed on the opportunity. Maybe I shouldn’t have been, though. Grassley tends to avoid putting public events on his schedule in Polk and several other large-population counties.

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Iowa State Fair discussion thread and presidential candidate speaking schedule

The Iowa State Fair opens today and runs through Sunday, August 23. The hundreds of thousands of people expected to attend will include eighteen presidential candidates. Their speeches on the Des Moines Register’s “soapbox” will be live streamed here. I’ve posted the current schedule after the jump, but it’s worth checking the Register’s site for possible changes.

As Catherine Lucey of the Associated Press observed, “For those who would be president, a visit to the Iowa State Fair may be the purest distillation of the campaign experience in the state that starts the voting in the race for the White House.” Most of the time, appearances on the Register’s soapbox are no more newsworthy than the average stump speech, but you never know when something important will happen. Mitt Romney infamously said “Corporations are people, my friend,” during the 2011 Iowa State Fair. Democrats across the country seized on those remarks to portray Romney as too business-friendly (which didn’t stop Iowa Democratic officialdom from later bashing the group whose heckling tactics provoked the Romney gaffe).

Last year, I shared my best advice about Iowa State Fair attractions and food. Your tips or any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

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