County fairs are an important part of life in rural America. That’s especially true in Howard County, Iowa, where the annual Mighty Howard County Fair is, in the words of resident and fair volunteer Joe Wacha, “one of the highlights of the year.”
Howard is a county of fewer than 10,000 in northwest Iowa. It is home to the Iowa Wrestling Hall of Fame, the famous American agronomist and humanitarian Norman Borlaug, and history’s first airline stewardess.
Daniel and Jordan Allott spoke with residents at the Howard County fair in late June to learn how Donald Trump won there by 21 points, after it went for Barack Obama in 2012 by the exact same steep margin.
Hillary Clinton was never popular in this county, explained county Democratic Party head Laura Hubka. Clinton came in third in the 2008 Democratic caucuses and won them only narrowly in 2016. In 2016, she lost the county by 8 percentage points to Bernie Sanders.
Unlike other counties that saw big swings from Obama to Trump, Howard has not been besieged by illegal immigrants or hard-hit by manufacturing job losses. But Trump’s anti-establishment message resonated with many Howard residents.
What caused Howard County to transform from deep-blue to deep-red was a general discontent with the political establishment and the belief that only Trump represented a true break from the status quo. Jason Passmore, who heads Howard County’s business and tourism office, said that as an outsider, Trump “was going to shake things up, wasn’t going to do things the way they’ve always been done. People like that. That sold well here.”
Perhaps the best explanation for Trump’s victory here was offered by Courtney Rowe, an aerospace engineer and Bernie Sanders supporter whom the Allotts met at the Democratic Party booth at the fair.
“I think part of [Trump’s success in Howard County] was just people thought, things aren’t working, we’ve tried Republicans, we’ve tried Democrats, it hasn’t worked for us,” said Rowe, who is running for the Democratic nomination for Congress. “Telling people that he’s going to make America great again, when it hasn’t seemed very great for you, that’s hopeful.”
This photo gallery was originally featured as a part of the Washington Examiner’s series The Race to 2020: The people and places that will define a presidency. You can read more about Howard County, see more photo gallery content, or use the form below to get email updates about future updates.