Candidates play to rural swing audiences
By Larry Dreiling
Recognizing that several swing states have substantial rural constituencies, the two major presidential candidates unveiled policy statements on their websites.
Republican candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney released a white paper titled "Agricultural Prosperity: Mitt Romney's Vision For A Vibrant Rural America."
President Barack Obama's campaign, meanwhile, issued an open letter to farmers and ranchers highlighting the farm and rural initiatives undertaken by the administration.
The preface of the Romney white paper offered a round of applause to rural America while repeating some long-used general campaign phrases.
"A prosperous agriculture sector is incredibly important for a vibrant rural America, and for the health of the entire American economy. The heartland of this country holds the best of what has made our country great and the dreams of what America can grow to be in the future," the letter began.
"But it is not only our core values that thrive in our small towns and family farms; our economy does as well, when hardworking men and women are supported by sound policies that promote growth while minimizing unnecessary interference from Washington bureaucrats."
The while paper continued that the Romney Plan for a Stronger Middle Class includes policies designed to strengthen the nation's rural communities.
"He will embrace the immense opportunity of American agriculture, selling goods around the world and helping to achieve energy independence here at home. He will pursue fundamental tax reform that cuts tax rates for all Americans and eliminates the estate tax that unfairly penalizes family farms. And he will respect the legitimate needs and concerns of farmers and ranchers, by ensuring that a strong farm bill is passed in timely fashion and by pursuing rational regulation that protects health, safety, and the environment without imposing unnecessary burdens," the white paper continued.
The executive summary of the white paper then listed an agenda it said would reverse Obama's "out-of-touch and counterproductive approach" to rural America and instead champion the efforts of those who "guarantee the safety and security of America's food supply, produce economic prosperity, and help to feed the world."
The four points the campaign listed were:
--Implement tax policies to support family farms and strong agribusiness;
--Pursue trade policies that expand upon the success of the agriculture sector, not limit it;
--Create a regulatory environment that it called "commonsense and cost-effective"; and
--Achieve energy independence by 2020.
Meanwhile, the Obama campaign open letter began with the same phrase of praise to rural America before lashing into House Republicans.
"America owes a debt of gratitude to you, our farmers and ranchers. American agriculture is the backbone of our country, providing our food and energy security and leading our economic recovery," the letter began. "You're doing your part to create an economy meant to last that rebuilds rural middle-class security and restores the basic values of hard work and fair play that made our country great.
"But right now, House Republicans are not doing their part. When so many farmers and ranchers are hurting because of the devastating drought, Congress needs to come together to ensure that farmers and ranchers affected by drought have disaster assistance, that crucial programs for dairy farmers don't expire, and that farmers have peace of mind for next year's crop. But House Republicans rushed out of Washington declaring their work was finished, without allowing a vote on this year's Farm Bill."
The letter then said Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, are the titular leaders of the Republican Party, leading the House blockage of the farm bill. "Together, they are rejecting what's right for American agriculture," the letter said. "To pay for their tax cuts for the richest Americans, farmers facing severe drought and natural disasters would pay more for their crop insurance, and conservation programs would be gutted. Their budget could cut programs that support rural schools, small businesses, housing and economic development by nearly 20 percent, undermining rural economic growth and rural middle-class security."
The letter said Obama has called for extending disaster assistance programs and expanding crop insurance and would work to reduce the deficit by cutting "wasteful" subsidies to crop insurance companies, reforming commodity programs, and better targeting conservation investments, instead of leaving farmers and ranchers without a safety net.
The letter, signed by the president, said his administration was strengthening rural economic development through investments in small businesses, infrastructure and clean energy.
"My administration is helping rural small businesses access the capital they need to expand operations and hire workers. Local communities are leveraging federal investments to put folks back to work modernizing water and sewer systems and expanding broadband service for nearly seven million rural residents," the letter continued.
Obama went onto praise rural American's efforts to reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil and transition to a clean energy economy.
"Tens of thousands of farmers and ranchers are installing clean energy projects that help improve their bottom line. Last year, America's farmers produced 14 billion gallons of renewable fuels, about 8 percent of total U.S. highway vehicle fuel. American biofuels are increasing our energy independence and cultivating homegrown energy. Clean energy can also provide farmers with additional income security, which is why I called on Congress to extend tax incentives for wind energy production. Mitt Romney would let those credits expire, along with tens of thousands of American jobs."
But most critical, Obama's letter said, was passage of the farm bill.
"Tell your Members of Congress that now is the time to get this done. Too many Americans are suffering right now to let politics get in the way. And don't forget to register to vote--and vote early if you can. If you've got any questions about voting, visit www.gottavote.com--your voice and your vote in this election will make the difference in keeping us moving forward, together.
"And in the meantime, I'll keep doing everything I can to help communities respond to the drought and get a farm bill passed. Because at times like these and no matter where we live, we're Americans first. And if we look out for each other, we'll come out of this stronger than before."
The presidential campaign is seen as tight in states such as Colorado, Iowa, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin.
Larry Dreiling can be reached by phone at 785-628-1117, or by email at email@example.com.