DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton observed a time-honored ritual Wednesday - a visit to the Iowa State Fair where she flipped pork patties, admired the cow carved from butter and sampled food on a stick.
Candidates of both parties have flocked to the fair this week as they courted voters in this leadoff caucus state. Iowa is Clinton's weakest state - she either is tied with rivals John Edwards and Barack Obama or trails in polls - and she spent nearly three hours under sweltering summer heat touring and shaking hands.
"I'm a senator from New York, I've gone to the New York fair every year, and people kept saying, 'You know, you've got to come to the very best fair, and that's the Iowa fair," she told a crowd to cheers. "So that's what I'm here for, and I'm going to do my own investigation. I'm going to eat my way across the fair."
And eat she did.
The former first lady munched on a Wonder Bar - vanilla ice cream covered with chocolate and nuts and perched, like most fair food, on a stick. At the Applehus stand, she sampled a bowl of caramel apples; at a novelty shop, she was given a SpongeBob doll by the obviously starstruck proprietor.
"I like Hillary. I'd vote for her," William Luman said.
Accompanied by her campaign co-chairman, former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, and his wife Christy, Clinton moved slowly through a crush of media and curious onlookers, signing hat brims, paper fans and copies of her memoir, "Living History."
Inside the huge Varied Industry Building, she visited quiltmakers and stopped by the booth of the Iowa Democratic Party, where her campaign sign was just above Obama's.
At the dairy building, she nodded solemnly at the life-sized butter cow, one of the fair's best known attractions. Vilsack pointed out the butter sculpture of Harry Potter next to the cow and noted that he'd finished all seven Harry Potter books.
Clinton's final stop was at the pork producer's building, where she flipped pork chops and patties over a sizzling hot grill.
Clinton also stopped by the Des Moines Register-sponsored "Soapbox," where all candidates have been invited to speak this week. She delivered her standard campaign speech, promising universal health care, although she has not yet offered a plan to do so. She also vowed to promote energy independence and bring U.S. troops home from Iraq.
Des Moines resident John Beall said he planned to support Clinton and would caucus for her, but worried that Republicans ultimately would defeat her.
"I think she's the one who can take the mess and straighten it out. I have no reservation," Beall said. "I think she'll win the nomination, but I don't know what they'll do to her in the general election."