No politician worked the State Fair better than Hubert Humphrey – or so those who watched him in action at the Great Minnesota Get-Together always told me when I’d comment on the fair ways of latter-day politicians.
The late vice president’s longtime spokesman Norman Sherman, in Minnesota earlier this month for the dedication of Humphrey’s State Capitol statue, told me one of Humphrey’s secrets to State Fair success. He wouldn’t allow any State Fair ribbon to go unacknowledged.
This and other newspapers in the 1950s routinely published lists of State Fair prizewinners. For Humphrey, those were mailing lists. Every winner of a ribbon or prize was to receive a personal letter of congratulations signed by then-U.S. Sen. Humphrey. Sherman got the letters assignment as a new staffer, and cranked out between 400 and 500 of the missives. Humphrey would not tolerate delay in getting them out, Sherman said. “The prototype letter was, ‘Congratulations on growing the largest green bean in Kandiyohi County history.’”
Sherman witnessed the letters’ payoff the next year at the DFL booth. He and other staffers were struck by how many fairgoers asked, “Is Hubert here?” It seemed, he said, as if all the state was on a first-name basis with the senator. He spotted one reason why in the hand of an old man in overalls. It was a well-worn letter bearing Humphrey’s signature – one Sherman had written and sent the year before.