Some patrons at the Wood County Fair avoid "politician parkway," where local Democrats and Republicans set up shop for the week. But other fairgoers look at the stroll past the political parties as an opportunity to shake some hands and bend some ears.
|Joel Kuhlman speaks with Amanda Greenwell with Kelly Wicks and Fred Keith behind them outside of the Wood County Democrats fair booth at the Wood County Fairgrounds. (Photos: Enoch Wu/Sentinel-Tribune)
Meanwhile, the politicians try to not cross the line between "accessible" and "annoying."
"It's like running the gauntlet," Wood County Juvenile Court and Probate Judge David Woessner said of the stretch of fairgrounds where the political parties sit. "Some want to talk to you," he said of the fairgoers. But others can be seen veering to the far side of the roadway to avoid the politicians.
However, to elected officials and wannabes, the fair is a once a year opportunity to reach otherwise elusive voters.
"You get a lot of traffic," Woessner said Wednesday evening. "It's important just to be visible and make yourself accessible."
Many of the politicians try to not accost potential voters.
"We don't impose ourselves on them," Wood County Commissioner Jim Carter said. "We're not here to spoil their night at the fair."
But this is the time of year when votes must be harvested.
"I'll be here everyday," Carter said. "You meet a lot of people you only see once a year."
Neither political party is above gimmicks and glitter to lure in potential voters. The Republican booth featured Ronald Reagan memorabilia, a Kroger gift card drawing, a water fountain and fans to cool down hot fairgoers.
The Democratic booth, though less busy than their opponents', featured free popcorn, coffee, water and the chance to win an American flag.
Sandy Tolbert, who was staffing the Democratic booth, estimated one out of 10 people stopping by the building were really interested in politics. The other nine - "they come in for the free stuff," she said, smiling.
Fairgoers accepting all the freebies could leave quite weighted down.
"You could stock up on paper products for year," Woessner said.
But name recognition can be the key to getting elected - as evidenced by candidate names plastered all over T-shirts, stickers, ballpoint pens, yard signs and notepads.
The notepads seemed to be particularly popular among candidates this year.
"People can actually use it," Carter said. "And once in a while, they may even remember whose name is on top of it."
Kelly Wicks, candidate for state representative, was trying some less conventional ways to promote name recognition. His promotional material included buttons and temporary tattoos.
"Broad identity is the key," he said.
While the candidates are looking for votes, the fairgoers are often looking for sympathetic ears.
|Doris Herringshaw hands materials to a fairgoer as Tim Brown looks on from within the Wood County Republicans fair booth at the Wood County Fairgrounds.
Wicks fielded concerns about the economy, education funding cuts and the loss of TARTA services in Perrysburg. "People want to talk," he said.
Other candidates heard concerns about water and sewer services, building inspections, taxes, auto titles, foreclosures and mega dairy farms.
Fred Keith, candidate for county commissioner, said people often want to talk about issues beyond local government, such as the national economy and presidential race.
"Even if it's not something you can do something about, people want to be heard," Keith said.
And the fair provides a great opportunity to share political views with the voters, he added.
"As a middle class person, you're interested in their middle class problems," he said.
Wood County Treasurer Jill Engle doesn't plan on spending every day at the fair this year, since her campaign as an unopposed candidate is a less demanding.
"I'm kind of low-key," she said Wednesday as she sat in the Republican booth.
Besides, she already has the name recognition challenge beat.
"When 68,000 tax bills go out with your name on them, you get a lot of name recognition," she said.
Many of the candidates at the fair seemed to realize they were walking a fine line between being open and being obnoxious.
"You don't try to be too overwhelming," Wood County Auditor Michael Sibbersen said.
Wood County Recorder Julie Baumgardner said she makes an effort to stand in the political booth rather than accost people in the parkway. But she knows the fairgrounds is where she has to be this week.
"I'm here everyday," she said. "It's where you meet the rural vote, the southern vote. You can't go door-to-door out there."
Wood County Clerk of Courts Cindy Hofner was one of the Republican party "hosts" Wednesday evening.
"You can do all the door-to-door you want, but this is where you meet the rural people," Hofner said.
Wood County Commissioner Tim Brown, a candidate for state representative, also knows the value of this week.
"I think it's very important to be here," he said. "Everybody is casual. There are no shirt and ties, and people feel they can come up and talk to you."
Brown did admit, however, that when he isn't running for office, he often stays off the political parkway.
"I try to avoid us, too," he said, smiling.
Some fairgoers appreciate the chance to see their elected officials in person.
"I think it's really a good opportunity," said Mary Reynolds, of Wayne.
Some take the time to find out more about the candidates.
"That way you can ask them questions, so when election time comes around, you know where they stand," said Susan Orwig, of Bowling Green.
Others are selective in where they direct their attention.
"We really tried to avoid the Democratic booth," said Mary Reardon, of Woodville. "We're Republicans."
And to others, it was little to do with political parties, they just prefer to focus on the fair.
"A lot of time we avoid this stretch," said Charlie Bechstein, of Bowling Green. "But they're here if somebody wants to talk to them."