It’s the Rural Economy, Stupid

August 22, 2008

WASHINGTON (Aug 22, 2008)—Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, and Virginia will be the big battleground states in the upcoming presidential election, according to a recent analysis by CNN.

And with the exception of New Hampshire, agriculture is a dominate industry in all of them. No wonder the candidates are starting to spend more time in rural outposts that were once considered to be Republican strongholds.

“Pundits say that rural America is red, but that’s just not the case,” Mary Kay Thatcher, the public policy director for the American Farm Bureau Federation, explained at a sugar industry conference held two weeks ago.

President Bush won nearly 60 percent of the rural vote in 2004, but according to recent polls, the gap is closing. A June AP-Yahoo News poll showed rural voters favored Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) over Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) for president by just 40 percent to 34 percent.

“The rural vote is not guaranteed and both candidates will need to work hard to earn the respect of small towns. To do that, they must take the time to listen to the concerns of farmers and ranchers and then offer real solutions,” Thatcher concluded.

Soaring input costs are agriculture’s top concern right now, says Katy Ziegler, the vice president of government relations for the National Farmers Union.

“Commodity prices go up and down, but input costs tend to go up and stay up,” noted Ziegler, who has spent most of the month traveling the country and listening to farmers.

Steep fuel, fertilizer, and seed bills could put a serious squeeze on farmers and ranchers as commodity prices start to level off, she contends, and this has a lot of producers worried.

“The farmers I speak with aren’t voting party line and aren’t as concerned with the social issues that dominated past elections.” explained Alan Welp, who raises corn, wheat, sugar, and cattle near Denver where the Democratic Convention will be held. “It’s the rural economy, stupid.”

And proper implementation of the recently passed farm bill will be essential to the health of the rural economy, he said.

Kelly Erickson, a Minnesota farmer who plans to tune into the Republican Convention to hear what McCain has to say about agriculture, concurs. “I could care less about polls, snazzy websites, expensive commercials, or who has the best looking family,” he said. “The guy I want in the White House is the one with the best farm policy platform.”