Kittleman, who turns 55 in October, said he has been coming to the fair for 54 years. His family farm is nearby, and his father, former state Sen. Robert Kittleman who died in 2004, knew the value of showing up at the popular annual event.

"I remember when I was in elementary school, my dad would give me five bucks and say, 'Run anywhere you want for the whole night,' because he would be working here at the Republican booth. … I have great and fond memories of the fair. … I can't remember the last time I missed one."

These days, of course, Kittleman's not running through the fair spending his father's cash on amusement rides and ice cream. He's at the Republican booth, chatting with fellow GOP officials, sharing handshakes and hugs with a seemingly endless stream of acquaintances and well-wishers.

Also a longtime regular at the fair is Bates, who like Kittleman lives in West Friendship — and is running for his state Senate seat.

"I have been doing the fair nearly every day since 1980," Bates said. Before she was a delegate, she said, she was on the GOP Central Committee, and since she only lived a mile or so away, "I was the one who was always opening and closing (the booth), making sure everything was staffed.

"I love it, you know. It's a great place to be and meet people."

A long tradition

Veteran county politicians say politicking has been part of the County Fair throughout its 67-year history.

They also say that election-year fairs, like next year, tend to attract more politicians, although this year's is the last before the 2014 primary election, which will be held June 24.

But despite the ever-present politicians, no one contends that politics dominate the Howard County Fair. Even the politicians say the weeklong event is still much more about pigs and pie eating than politics, more about cows and crop than candidates.

Fair President Blair Hill, while agreeing that the fair is "a great opportunity to meet your local politicians," suggested politics is more of a sideshow.

"We try not to be," he said, when asked if the fair was a political event. "We try to be neutral ground."

The fair, he said, "is more family fun, an opportunity to get together, see old friends. … People just want to come out and have a good time."

And if they feel the urge to shake hands with a few local politicians, well, they've come to the right place.