WASHINGTON – Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee doesn’t care how cold it gets in Iowa next winter – he wants the faithful to bundle up and vote for him.
“And if for some crazy reason you are not gonna vote for me in the caucuses, for God’s sakes stay home that night where it’s warm and do not leave your home,” the former Arkansas governor told a crowd at the Iowa State Fair on Thursday.
Laid back and in his element, Huckabee joked with would-be voters: “You ask questions and I will try not to do anything that will end my presidential aspirations here on the soapbox.”
Huckabee, the winner of the 2008 Iowa Republican caucuses, is one of 19 presidential hopefuls from both parties attending the annual August pilgrimage.
The fair – and the soapbox hosted by the Des Moines Register - has become a perennial stop for presidential candidates looking to test drive their message and electability.
It’s also a place where voters, like Bob Hemesath, an Iowa farmer, get a chance to ask the candidates where they stand on the issues.
“It’s a very relaxed. It’s very open,” Hemesath told FoxNews.com. “It’s not a campaign stump speech. You have the opportunity to shake their hand. It’s a much more open, friendly atmosphere.”
Hemesath says he wants candidates to lay out their priorities and goals for the future of Iowa agriculture.
He also wants answers on where they stand on the renewable fuel standard. In May, the Environmental Protection Agency announced changes to how much corn-based ethanol and other biofuels can be mixed into gas and diesel. The new rules could change how Hemesath, like many others in the largely agricultural state, make a living.
The Iowa State Fair, first held in 1854, has turned into a venue where voters go for answers.
The event has grown both in popularity and political prominence. In 2002, attendance hit one million and since then, has passed the million mark 11 times.
This year, how Republican candidates come off could hold even more importance than in past years, Dianne Bystrom, director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics, told FoxNews.com. In June, the Iowa Republican Party decided to officially scrap its high-profile presidential straw poll which had traditionally served as a test of a candidate’s popularity.
How a politician performs in Iowa, the crucial first-in-the-nation caucus state, can light a path to the White House or dash D.C. dreams.
This year, the challenge for the 17 Republicans in the running for the 2016 GOP nomination will be to find ways to set themselves apart from the pack. Bystrom says they’ll have to do it by striking just the right cord.
“What happened to the kinder, gentler Mike Huckabee?” she asked, referring to his performance, which some called caustic, at the first Republican presidential primary debate on Aug. 6.
Bystrom says candidates who play it positive and cut the controversy out of their 30-minute speeches will make the most impact with voters.
“It’s not a great venue for attacks,” she said. “It’s a family-friendly environment. Set an optimistic tone.”
The PG-rated tone also means candidates should think carefully before making any big policy statements or weighing in on controversial topics like Planned Parenthood and immigration, Bystrom added.
“Talk about your accomplishments,” she said. “What have they done and what will they do for Iowa?”
Among the GOP hopefuls vying for viewer attention on the soapbox are Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Wisconsin Gov.Scott Walker, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Sen. Rick Santorum, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, neurosurgeon Ben Carson, former HP CEO Carly Fiorina.
Donald Trump is expected to show up Saturday but has yet to say whether he’ll participate in the soapbox.
A handful of Democrats, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz will also attend.
Like Trump, Hillary Clinton, former secretary of state, is scheduled to attend the fair but is not expected to take her talking points to the famed soapbox.