COLUMBIA - Political signs lined the roadway leading to the Boone County Fairgrounds as families poured in for the 64th Annual Ham Breakfast and Auction on Saturday morning. The lines stretched out the door before the breakfast began at 7 a.m.
Politicians, followed by their entourages, worked their way through the crowd, handing out fliers and shaking hands.
36: Number of hams being auctioned off this year
41: The number of hams auctioned off last year
18 pounds, 4 ounces: The weight of this year's and last year's grand champion hams
30: The price for which last year's grand champion ham sold per pound
52: The price for which this year's grand champion ham sold per pound
For political candidates, the breakfast, which usually draws 700 to 800 people, was not only a chance to enjoy a hardy meal, but an opportunity to meet supporters face to face.
"I've met people I've only talked to on the phone," said Judy Baker, Democratic candidate for Missouri's 9th District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. "This always signals the last mile of the marathon. The primary is the hardest part of the race because you're running against friends."
However, Kurt Schaefer, Republican candidate for 19th District state senator, said that pork, not politics, drew him to the fair.
"I have three kids, so even though I come to the fair to talk to people, my kids, they want to see everything," Schaefer said.
Although politics took center stage for most candidates, they didn't let partisan quarrels get in the way of a ham breakfast.
"They leave their partisanship back in the car. We're here to meet people," said Sam Page, Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor.
Some candidates said they felt more at ease at the fair than others because of their background and campaigning history. Several candidates have previously hit up the Boone County Fair - and other county fairs in Missouri - on the campaign trail.
"It's easy for me to connect with rural folks because I have a rural background," said Blaine Luetkemeyer, Republican candidate for the 9th District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The top 36 hams from the country-cured ham contest on July 18 were auctioned off after the ham breakfast. The top hams from the junior and open divisions had gone head-to-head for the positions of grand champion and reserve champion, which are first and second place, respectively.
The more than 200 hams submitted were judged based on several criteria, including eye appeal, outside color, smoothness of skin, fitting, trim, firmness, meatiness and aroma.
At one point, with few people bidding, auctioneer Larry Atterberry remarked, "How come every politician in the country asked for a donation, and I can't get them to bid?"
Tyler Barnes' 18 pound, four ounce ham scored 95 out of 100 points, earning him the title of grand champion. He barely edged out Dale Lynn, who took home the title of reserve champion with 94 points for his 19 pound, 8 ounce ham. Both winning hams were sugar-cured.
The grand champion ham ended up going for $52 a pound to Bruce and Nancy Wilson, bringing the ham's total cost to nearly $1,000.
Of the money raised in the auction, 99 percent goes to the ham curers, while one percent goes toward the fair, ham contest co-chairman Paul Little said.