CLEAR LAKE, Iowa - Peering up from the podium at Donald Trump's helicopter in the sky, Bernie Sanders said, "There's Donald Trump, look who it is." Gazing out at the large audience that had spilled out to block the midway in all directions Saturday at the Iowa State Fair, he added, "I apologize. I left the helicopter at home."
Sanders, the independent U.S. senator from Vermont, has run his presidential campaign against the idea of the "1 percent." Saturday, his fans were reminded that he also is running against the actual 1 percent. Hillary Clinton, his main Democratic rival, and Trump and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the poll leader among Republicans and the GOP establishment favorite, respectively, are fabulously wealthy.
Samantha Childress, 19, and her parents drove 6½ hours from Fayetteville, Arkansas, to see Sanders deliver his message. Clinton and Trump couldn't bother to walk a few hundred feet to share theirs.
The day at the mobbed and sweltering fair highlighted the differences among the candidates, most notably when the noise of Trump's circling helicopter momentarily interrupted Sanders.
The Childress family got seats near the stage about two hours before Sanders went on. Friday night they had to settle for a hotel room in Kansas City, about three hours away, because nearer hotels were booked. The impetus for the road trip was Samantha's passion, and she wore a fun, deeply profane T-shirt that showed it.
"I am a big supporter," she said. "I mean, yeah, he's an old white guy, and there have been a lot of those . . . but he seems honest, and he seems like he's fighting for what he believes in."
Her mother, Leah, was nearly as excited as her daughter, standing on a bench and craning her head for a better view.
Sanders had his huge crowd, and his crumpled yellow sheet of paper, which he never actually referred to. He had his speech, which is actually not a speech but a collection of ideas that spill out in a different order each time but always add up to the same populist, peaceful, racially harmonious fight-for-the-little-guy message.
Clinton, notoriously uncomfortable in such uncontrolled settings, held a news conference, itself unusual for her, and then led a grasping crowd around the fairgrounds. Plenty of undecideds came to see Sanders but also wanted to hear from Clinton, and her unwillingness to take the stage didn't sit well with them.
Newcomers would walk up and say, "When is Hillary scheduled?" or "What time does Trump go on?" Most, when they heard the answer, were incredulous.
It's Iowa. Residents expect to be able to chat with candidates practically on demand.
Trump says he didn't speak because he's angry at The Des Moines Register, sponsor of the fair's famous speakers soapbox, and rightly so. The newspaper's editorial board called him a "bloviating blowhard" and urged him to quit the race, and the board was wrong to do so. But if he is going to run a campaign or a country, letting anger at newspapers drive his decisions won't work very well.
Trump does deserve kudos for giving lucky children rides in a helicopter, but Willy Wonka-like behavior does not a world leader make.
Longtime observers said they'd never seen a political day at the Iowa State Fair like yesterday.
Already, the candidates are showing us who they are. We should believe them. Some, like Sanders, are doing it by facing crowds large and small to share their messages.
Others aren't. And people are noticing.
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday's editorial board.