Although the Howard County Fair is mostly about farm animals and carnival rides, it also plays an important role in politics, as state senators, delegates and other public figures come to meet and talk to constituents. (Jon Sham/Baltimore Sun video)

Like most politicians, Greg Fox has at least two good reasons to go to the Howard County Fair.

"First, it's a lot of fun, especially to do with your family," said the Republican County Council member, whose district includes West Friendship, where the fair is held. "Second, there are a lot of constituents out here, so it's a good chance to be out here with our constituents."

Like any large gathering, the annual County Fair, which opened Aug. 3 and runs through Saturday, Aug. 10, is a great place — some say the best place in Howard County — for elected officials and wannabe elected officials to see and be seen.

Which is why on Sunday, Aug. 4, about a dozen of them marched in the Grand Opening Parade. Among them were Fox and fellow Republicans state Sen. Allan Kittleman, who is running for county executive, and Dels. Gail Bates and Warren Miller, as well as a half-dozen members of the school board and county Police Capt. John Newnan, who is running for sheriff.

It's also why both the county Democrats and the Republicans have had booths on the fair's main drag for as long as anyone can remember. And it's why inside the main exhibit hall, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, a Democrat running for governor, and his running mate, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, had their own booth, manned by a legion of young volunteers sporting Brown-Ulman T-shirts.

"There are lots of people here," noted volunteer Helen Sgouros, 15, of Ellicott City, who was at the Brown-Ulman booth with twin sister, Marie. "You catch a lot of people's attention."

The fair is held in western Howard, long the county's Republican stronghold. But that didn't stop Michael McPherson, chairman of the county Democrats, from pulling a long shift at the Democrats' booth Sunday — something he planned to do all week, he said.

The crowd at the fair, he said, is fertile ground for all county politicians.

"It's part of my outreach effort," McPherson explained. "If you're not visible, people don't know about you, and where better to maximize your visibility than at the Howard County Fair?"

He added: "I don't think of this as Republican territory. This is part of Howard County, which is mostly Democratic."

Still, Republican officeholders, while outnumbered by Democrats countywide, dominated the scene at the fair, at least on Sunday.

"The heart of the area of Howard County that elects Republicans is right here," said Miller. "If you're a Republican, this is probably the biggest event in Howard County."

Charles Feaga, a Republican County Council member in the 1980s and '90s, agreed, said the fair used to attract a wider variety of politicians.

"Going back 20 or 30 years, they all were here — none of them missed the Howard County Fair," said Feaga. With population shifts and the growth of Columbia, he said, many east county politicians "put their emphasis there."

But Feaga, who has been coming to Howard County Fairs since the first one, in 1946, and whose granddaughter was crowned Miss Howard County Farm Bureau on Sunday, said the fair remains something of a magnet for county politicians of all stripes and ZIP codes. He said he expected a good showing of politicians throughout the week — especially this coming weekend, when crowds peak.

'So many people'

Still, you'd be hard-pressed not to run into an elected official or two on any day at the fair, both Republicans and Democrats.

School board member Janet Siddiqui, who is running as a Democrat for a delegate seat in the Columbia-dominated District 13, didn't wait for the closing weekend. She marched in Sunday's parade with other members of the nonpartisan school board and spent much of the day in the Democrat booth.

"There are so many people, and you really get the word out about what your message is, and talk to people and see what people's issues are," she said. "People from all over the state come here to the fair, so you get a different perspective about what people's issues are."

Said Kittleman, a lifelong Republican: "People from throughout the county come here. It's not all people in the west. People in Columbia, Elkridge, Laurel come here, and you really get a sense of what they're thinking."