CLAY COUNTY, AR (KAIT) – The sweltering heat may have kept few from attending the Independence Day festivities in Clay County Wednesday, but organizers say they could at least count on local politicians to be there.
For 85 years, generations have come to Piggott to enjoy the town's annual Fourth of July homecoming celebration, which includes a parade and picnic.
"I can remember even back as a little boy in the cotton fields chopping cotton," Mayor Gerald Morris recalled. "Usually, my dad would say, 'Boys, if y'all will work hard till noon, we'll quit at noon and go to the picnic.'
Music, food and other entertainment have become staples at the celebration and so have stump speeches from politicians.
"This is a tradition in the First (Congressional) District coming up to Clay County on the Fourth of July and so we enjoy coming up here," said Rep. Rick Crawford. "There's a lot of great folks up here. It's kind of the official kickoff of campaign season."
Crawford addressed the crowd in Piggott, followed shortly by his Democratic challenger Scott Ellington. Each tried to shore up support at several campaign stops Wednesday, including the community-wide picnic in Corning.
"It's a homecoming time for both cities," Ellington said about these traditional stops, "and so we'll have people here from all over the district, all over the state and even all over the country that people come in and come home and spend time with their families."
Even politicians not on the ballot this November attend, like Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel.
"(Former Congressman) Marion Berry always used to say on the Fourth of July, if you're not in Clay County, you're wrong," McDaniel said.
He has come to the various events for the past decade, but suggests the exposure gives voters a chance to speak to him and other officials one-on-one.
"I shook hands, and, yeah, we threw candy, but when I get back to my office tomorrow," McDaniel said, "there are folks in Clay County that are going to get some services only because they had an opportunity to see the elected official and ask."
Locals suggest the stump speeches lost their novelty long ago.
"They do their speeches and support the picnic," said Gary Howell, who has served as Clay County judge for the past 15 years. "It's been that way ever since I was (a kid)."
This exercise in democracy, however, may show just how much our country has developed since declaring its freedom 236 years ago.