Friday, May 09, 2008

McCain's Farm Positioning Opens Door For Obama In Rural America

The co-editor of The Rural Blog, a University of Kentucky professor with close ties to community newspapers in U.S. farm country, says Republican presidential John McCain's positioning on farm issues could provide a major opening for his likely Democratic opponent, Barack Obama.

Al Cross, a veteran Pulitzer Prize-winning Kentucky newsman who covered politics for the Louisville Courier- Journal before moving on to become director of The Institute For Rural Journalism and Community Issues, says McCain may find himself on flimsy footing in key heavily rural states like Iowa.

"His recent statement in Iowa that he would veto the new Farm Bill as now written helps firm up his reputation for independence from lobbying interests, but puts him more at risk in swing states like Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Missouri, and maybe Indiana -- or even the critical state of Ohio, which people often forget is in the Corn Belt," Cross tells Iowa Independent. "Perhaps he expects that his national media campaign will mention his opposition to ethanol and other subsidies, probably not a bad idea at a time of rising food and fuel prices."

McCain's opposition to farm subsidies and hostility to ethanol are well-chronicled. Here is The Associated Press from earlier this month reporting on McCain's visit to Des Moines and comments on the farm bill:

"I do not support it. I would veto it," McCain said. "I would do that because I believe that the subsidies are unnecessary."

McCain was in the heart of farm country, a place where subsidies for corn and ethanol fuel are wildly popular.

His long-held position against subsidies has cost him in Iowa, the state that traditionally begins the presidential nominating process and is a potential swing state in the fall. Yet the Arizona senator didn't hesitate to bring up the issue.
"I just thought I'd start out with that non-controversial statement," he said as he began the town hall-style meeting.

The nearly $300 billion bill would pay for farm and nutrition programs for the next five years.

Given Obama's "weakness with rural Democrats," perhaps McCain figures he has some room to run in farm country, Cross said.

"But he (McCain) had better beware those swing states," Cross said. "Farm prices may be high, but farmers and their economic allies are in the squeeze, too."

McCain is now being swept up in the "food versus fuel" debate that many in farm country regard as nothing more than a strawman for big oil.

Ethanol is far from the only energy source to be propped up with government subsidies as evidenced by a Texas Comptroller's report released this week.

And in Grand Island, Neb., this week -- an area where corn and livestock and biofuels are vital -- Rick Tolman, chief executive officer of the National Corn Growers Association, told the Grand Island Independent newspaper that a "massive disinformation campaign" against ethanol was started by the oil industry which doesn't want the competition.

It also may have been started by those, such as the meat industry, that want corn to return as a low-cost feed for livestock, he said.

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