Alongside the cows, llamas and grizzly bears, this year’s Montgomery County Agricultural Fair is also hosting donkeys and elephants — or Democrats and Republicans, that is.
Continuing a long-standing practice, some candidates with an eye on the November election are heading to the county fair this week to meet voters face-to-face for some old-fashioned politickin’.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Larry Hogan was among those who mingled with fairgoers Saturday — his latest stop in a statewide tour of fairs.
Hogan, who also took time with his family to enjoy the attractions, said the fair offered an opportunity to meet with “all kinds of folks” in person and in a setting different from a political event.
“It’s really a nice place to meet folks,” he said.
Politicians and candidates at the fair aren’t allowed to wander the grounds if they’re promoting their campaigns. Rather, they stick to the area around a tent staffed by their party.
Martin Svrcek, the fair’s executive director, said the county’s Democratic and GOP parties are the only ones that requested permission to have a tent this year.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for folks to go face to face with one of their elected representatives, because it’s not always easy to do that,” Svrcek said.
Both parties planned to have a presence at each day of the fair, which runs through Saturday, with a variety of politicians and candidates from the state, county and local levels.
Saturday afternoon, the Democratic and Republican tents had different atmospheres.
The Montgomery County Republican Central Committee’s tent was more abuzz with candidates and volunteers. Nearby, the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee’s tent was moving more slowly with a few volunteers. Both tents were well stocked with campaign materials, signs and other handouts.
Martha Schaerr, the Republican tent’s organizer, said she has heard in the past that some fair attendees were glad to get the chance to talk to fellow Republicans.
“Many people feel like they’re the only Republican in the county and that’s not true,” said Schaerr, who also is running for delegate in District 19.
The Democratic committee expects “every statewide official to come through,” said Kevin Walling, the committee’s chairman, including Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, who is running for governor, and state Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Dist. 16), a candidate in the attorney general race.
“It’s a real opportunity to meet with real Marylanders in an event that’s both fun and engaging and bringing together a lot of people from around the county and around the state and region,” Walling said.
Democrat David Moon, running for delegate in District 20, said he came to the fair to meet voters, as well as enjoy the rides and other activities.
The Gaithersburg fair is far from the district he is running to represent, which covers Silver Spring and Takoma Park, he said.
“I actually just like to hear what people are thinking about,” he said.
Moon said the fair is also a good time to talk to people about registering to vote and whether they are paying attention to other upcoming races.
Sheila E. Hixson, an incumbent in the same District 20 delegate race, said Saturday afternoon that she had talked “a little bit” with fairgoers so far and planned to stay longer.
Hixson, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, said some people brought up education issues.
The Democratic candidates at the fair are probably promoting the party “more than ourselves,” she said.
Robin Ficker, who is running for state senator in District 15, could be found Saturday at the Republican committee’s tent with his son Flynn Ficker, a delegate candidate in the same district.
The elder Ficker said the fair allows him to meet upcounty residents from his district and younger families.
“This is a pleasant interlude, meeting a lot of folks that are interested in the farm life,” said Ficker, who said the fair marked one campaigning stop for him Saturday.
Michael Benedict of Brookeville left the Republican committee’s tent with a bumper sticker and another handout after a conversation with a candidate.
Talking to candidates is a good way to assess them, he said.
“It’s a great opportunity,” he said. Knowing the Republican tent will be at the fair each year, “I always stop to say hello” and meet the current or potential politicians in person, he said.