Just as much a part of the Minnesota State Fair as midway rides, 4-H displays and food of all kinds, are politicians working potential voters. The four major party endorsed candidates for U.S. Senate have spent many hours at the fair, talking to thousands of voters.
It's hard to find the Green party's booth at the state fair, but it's there. Packed in among the gadget-hawkers on the second floor of the grandstand is Green Party Senate candidate Ed McGaa, competing for attention with a display of high-tech stepladders. Hardly a familiar face to most Minnesotans, McGaa fits well into the brigade of grandstand salespeople.
"Take a look at the Green Party, folks, if you want to keep your Social Security," he tells passersby.
McGaa's favorite campaign topic revolves around saving Social Security, primarily by cutting back on foreign military aid.
"Seventeen million (dollars) going to Israel ... a day. And $2 billion going to Egypt and Saudi Arabia. It all adds up to about $40 million a day."
McGaa also promotes universal health care, environmental protection and corporate accountability. When a woman approaches the Green Party display, McGaa floats a concept that's drawn laughs in the debates. He wants to change the Constitution so that the Senate would be comprised equally of men and women.
"I have one real beautiful issue there," McGaa says. "I'd like to make the U.S. Senate pass a constitutional amendment - 50 percent women, And I think that would bring more peace to the world."
The woman, Cathy Weber from St. Cloud, walks away from McGaa impressed. Weber says she's concerned about the environment, but she's looking beyond issues - to character.
"I think he seems honest, and I think that's a real attribute for a politician these days. None of them are honest," Weber says.
McGaa says he hopes other fairgoers will leave with the same impression. He says he prefers formal debates over one-on-one campaigning, but he sees the value of being at the fair.
"It's just a matter of people seeing who you are. If people meet you, they see who you are," McGaa says.
A couple of blocks away, at DFL Sen. Paul Wellstone's booth, getting people to stop and talk isn't a problem.
Fairgoers line up for Wellstone, mostly to thank him and wish him well. And Wellstone looks like there's no place he'd rather be than at the state fair. He even joined a chorus of "Happy Birthday" for an acquaintance.
One fairgoer thanks Wellstone for speaking at a recent community college commencement. A Qwest Communications employee applauds the senator's work against corporate corruption. A retiree tells Wellstone he doesn't want Social Security privatized.
"Privatization of Social Security - I would be prepared to talk 100 hours on the floor of the Senate," Wellstone says.
"And thank you very much for that bill that you passed about these people hiding that money, because I know someone that's hiding in Bermuda right now," says another constituent.
Wellstone says the state fair is a must for people in his line of work.
"It's a great big gigantic focus group," Wellstone says. "It sure gives you a sense of how you're doing."
It's also a place where voters can easily bring up concerns.
"I'm very very concerned about all this war talk in Iraq," says another fairgoer. "I think it's misplaced... I think it's the wrong thing to do. Our vital interests are not involved. I wish you would speak out."
"There have to be a lot of questions answered," Wellstone responded. "The case has not been made yet for any kind of military action."
Another man approaches Wellstone to tell the senator his opposition to the Bush administration tax cuts is well-placed.
"I don't think we should go forward with some of the tax cuts," Wellstone says. "I think we should defer on the top one percent, defer on multi-nationals. And I think we should not have any deficits, and make the investment. I'm willing to say that to everybody in Minnesota, and I think that's a choice people can make."
A block and a half down the street - and on the other end of the political spectrum - is Wellstone's main competition in the Senate race, Republican Norm Coleman. There's no long line at Coleman's booth, but as they do with Wellstone, fairgoers readily recognize and greet the former St. Paul mayor.
Coleman and Wellstone don't agree on much policy-wise, but they seem to share a joy of working voters at the fair.
"Campaigning is hard," Coleman says. "It takes a lot out of you. You put out a lot of energy, you're reaching out - and I love it. You've got to like it, you've got to get energy from it. But it is very gratifying when so many folks come up, and they literally lift you up. They get you through the hard moments."
"Keep your pro-life stance," says one visitor. "We live up in Staples, Minnesota. I'm from Dallas Sams' district."
"See that?" Coleman asks. "There's a guy who voted Democrat for State Senate. But United State Senate will vote - here we go."
"Well, we're independent because we're basically a pro-life vote. I mean that Norm," says the visitor.
As he meets and greets, Coleman is focused on his reason for being at the fair. He leaves most conversations with a simple message.
"I hope I get your support," Coleman says. "I hope I get your vote. I'll work hard for you."
Around the corner, between a french fry stand and a radio station, is the Independence Party's endorsed Senate candidate Jim Moore.
Like McGaa from the Green Party, Moore is relatively unknown, and like a salesman making cold calls, it's Moore - not fairgoers - who initiates the conversation.
"You can tell, and you can read body language. I did that for years in the business world," Moore says. "You just try to find people that are open and receptive."
"What's important to you on the national level?" Moore asks a passerby.
"Well, child care," she responds. "Anything to do with children is an important thing."
"One of my biggest stands I'm going to take is to try to force the federal government to meet their special education mandate, which is starving the schools of cash right now," Moore says.
In a Senate race dominated by a well-known Democrat and Republican, Moore is talking up his independent status.
"Right now we have a senator who's brought to the side of the debate because he's, quite frankly, far on the liberal side," Moore says. "We have Norm Coleman, who was hand-picked by the (Bush) administration, and he's likely to march pretty close in lock step with them. If Minnesota's next senator is going to determine the balance of power, I want that to be an independent voice, that's going to value each decision on its merits, and to decide in the best interest of the state of Minnesota."
Fair officials say they expect by the end of the fair on Labor Day, more than 1.5 million people will have made their way around the grounds. That's by far the largest concentration of voters any of the candidates will see between now and election day.More from MPR