The stars of the show may have been 6-year-old Logan Cary, his grand champion ham and Gov. Matt Blunt, but the trio shared the limelight with dozens of political candidates and their handlers Thursday.
About 800 people, ranging from toddlers and their politician parents to farmers in bib overalls, filed under the huge white director’s tent to chat and dine at the Governor’s Ham Breakfast.
Two supporters for Democratic state Rep. Sam Page, of Creve Coeur, greeted people in the parking lot with large yellow placards shouting Page for lieutenant governor in 2008.
Blunt proponents doled out free lapel stickers touting the Republican incumbent for re-election. Other familiar sayings such as “I like Ike” adorned T-shirts.
In prepared marks from the podium, Blunt rallied support for the production of Missouri ethanol and the vehicles that burn E85 flex fuel. “Missouri agriculture is at the forefront of efforts to get our energy from the heartland” rather than from supporters of Middle Eastern terrorists, Blunt said.
As one-on-one conversations raised the din of the audience, Blunt also cited Missouri’s recently adopted eminent domain reform laws to protect farmers.
An auction netted more than $13,000 from bidders on the grand champion and reserve grand champion hams, grand champion bacon, a belt buckle and souvenir basket.
With the governor’s remarks and auction out of the way, people lined up to take a foam plate piled with scrambled eggs, ham, potatoes, grits, biscuits and gravy.
Attending the event with Blunt were his wife, Melanie, and 2-year-old son, Branch, who seemed less than impressed with the meal. The boy stood on a chair, sampled a bite of ham, chewed a bit, and removed the wad from his mouth.
Another youngster who seemed taken aback by all the adult hubbub was Logan, 6, of Houston, Mo., whose grand champion ham was auctioned to Ditzfeld Transfer and the Murphy Brothers Exposition for $5,000. Logan held onto a trophy nearly as tall as he was, and stood stoically in a striped dress shirt, black tie, and black slacks while officials snapped photographs of him, his ham and an entourage of buyers, governor and fair director and queen.
A dozen or so news reporters surrounded the governor and peppered him with questions on topics ranging from the border battle between Kansas and Missouri over taxes to the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority lawsuit.
One attendee caught some attention as he followed Democratic Attorney General Jay Nixon, who is vying for the governor’s job. The man, wearing a camouflage ball cap and mirrored sunglasses, documented the event and Nixon’s moves on a hand-held, high-definition digital camera. He declined to give The Democrat his name or reason for attending. “I write some things. I document political events around the state,” he said.
Local politicians jockeyed to gain the ear of national officeholders as Sens. Kit Bond and Claire McCaskill and U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton meandered through the crowd, stopping to say hello here and there.
McCaskill remained under the tent a while after most of the others had gone, taking a serious tone as she answered reporters’ questions about Iraq and the national presidential campaign.
McCaskill said the United States must focus on fighting terrorism and training the Iraqi army, as well as plan a staggered removal of troops from Iraq. When it comes to who she will support for president, she said: “I like the Democratic nominee.”
Bond and Skelton also weighed in with their assessments of the Iraq war.
Charles Rosenkrans, superintendent of the ham show, said he understands that the breakfast is as much about politics as pigs. But that’s OK.
“It promotes pork. That’s what it’s all about,” Rosenkrans said. He said 6-year-old Logan may be the youngest ever to show the grand champion ham.
“He’s had a lot of help, but that’s fine,” Rosenkrans said. “If this will help him ... to go down that good road of life, time and money have been well spent.”
Former state Sen. Jim Mathewson, of Sedalia, a member of the State Fair Foundation, was cheerful as he climbed aboard a golf cart to leave the event.
“I am so good they probably ought to arrest me,” Mathewson replied to an inquiry by Merrel Breyer, of Richland, president of the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association that runs the fair’s Beef House.
Mathewson lamented the heat that had plagued the fair, but noted it was good for the bottled water sales by the foundation. Breyer remarked that his group members “are feeding three-fourths of the people here, but there are not that many people here.”
After the breakfast, many of the politicians scattered on the fairgrounds, where the rising temperatures and oppressive humidity kept its stronghold.
Mike Evans, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor, sweltered in the sun outside the his party’s tent. “I’m about to melt,” the candidate said.
Evans lashed back at incumbent Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who the night before had said Democrats are “like dumb animals that forget nothing and learn nothing.”
Evans, a former teacher and U.S. Army veteran, said Democrats are “educated people. We’re certainly not dumb animals.” While Evans said Kinder’s comment was offensive, he said he takes “it all in stride because I look forward to unseating Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder.”
In a statement Thursday, Kinder issued an “unqualified” public apology for the “strongly partisan remark.”