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Food can be a high "steaks" gamble on the 2020 campaign trail

Food: High "steaks" gamble on campaign trail
Food can be a high "steaks" gamble on the campaign trail 05:16

In South Carolina, it's fish. In Iowa, it's steak or corn dogs. In New Hampshire, they serve up politics and eggs: The candidate speaks, and then signs wooden eggs.

Anywhere you go with the presidential candidates, there are cameras — and catering.

It helps draw a crowd, fuels the campaign, and offers the candidate a chance to connect with people, reports CBS News correspondent Ed O'Keefe. 

"The big thing with food is the idea that it tells us important things about who you are," said Emily Contois, a food and media scholar at the University of Tulsa. She studies the intersection of food and politics.

"So with a presidential candidate, the hope is that by getting to eat with this person, or seeing them eat a food from your local area, that you get a better sense of who they are as a person," Contois said. 

Clockwise from top left: Democratic presidential candidates Tulsi Gabbard, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders combine eating and campaigning.

But sometimes watching a politician eat can leave a bad taste in the mouths of voters. Remember when Gerald Ford ate a tamale without removing the husk? Or when George H. W. Bush said he didn't like broccoli?

"I haven't liked it since I was a little kid... and I'm president of the United States and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli," Bush said in 1990.

Or that time Gary Bauer fell off a New Hampshire stage while flipping pancakes? When John Kerry ordered Swiss cheese on his Philly cheesesteak, the City of Brotherly Love loathed him.

Recently, Pete Buttigieg got fried online for slicing a cinnamon roll and eating it like a chicken wing.

"My hope is that instead of us harping on candidates when they make these mistakes, is that we encourage them to ask questions, right? When you go into a restaurant that you've never been to before, to say 'I haven't had this but I'm so excited to try it,'" Contois said.

Over the summer, we stopped in Columbia, South Carolina, at Clyburn's World Famous Fish Fry, hosted by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn.

It was his largest ever, with more than 4,400 fish sandwiches served for thousands of voters there to see nearly two dozen candidates.

In Iowa, the state fair is a must-stop for any presidential contenders. There are corn dogs to eat, pork chops to flip, and ice cream to lick. In September, candidates headed back to Iowa for a local Democratic steak fry.

While voters eat, candidates flip steaks and buy the beer and try to prove they've got what it takes.

O'Keefe asked Senator Amy Klobuchar, "Are the crowds coming for the politicians or the food?" 

"I think the politicians are like a la mode," Klobuchar joked. She thinks that catching up with voters over a meal is essential for any politician.

"They may do it over a root beer float or over a Tiny Tim doughnut, but they talk to you. And that's what you want to have as a politician. You don't want to become so insulated that the only people you hear from are on a Twitter feed," Klobuchar said. "And that's why I think it's so important to go to things like state fairs and eat the food with the people."

Klobuchar told us her strategy when handling food is to avoid buying big servings herself and instead just try bites of everything she's offered.

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