Wall Street bailout pinch on Farm Bill could sway rural voters in prez race

(Photo/josh, Flickr)
(Photo/josh, Flickr)

How small-town voters will go for one of two city-slicker presidential candidates may turn not to values or who looks most convincing in a Stetson hat but assurances that rural economic concerns will be among the next administration’s tight budget priorities following the massive financial sector bailout by the government last week.

A conference call today with four prominent Colorado politicians on behalf of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama touched on the Holy Trinity of western rural issues — veterans, gun rights and water.

In hard-hitting remarks reminiscent of his Democratic National Convention speech, U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Mannassa, noted that he honored GOP presidential nominee John McCain’s military service but was disturbed by the Arizona senator’s voting record on veterans health issues and a dismal 20 percent approval rating by the Disabled Veterans of America.

State Sen. Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus, countered recent attempts by the National Rifle Association to blast Obama’s record on gun rights through a series of attack ads running in Colorado, New Mexico and Pennsylvania. Isgar challenged the notion that the Democratic nominee and constitutional law expert would not vigorously defend the Second Amendment.

And not to let a good gaffe go unpunished, U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar reminded the media that McCain called for renegotiating the Colorado water compact — an incredibly politically damaging statement that sparked a firestorm of controversy. And the unlikely duo of Salazar and Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bob Schaffer both vowed to fight McCain to the death over any attempt to relieve Colorado of any more of its water to keep Scottsdale lawns lush. The Arizona governor, eventually realizing his “whiskey’s for drinking, water’s for fighting” blunder, attempted to recover by complaining the statement was “mistakenly construed” by the press.

That left state Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, to bat cleanup on Obama’s rural record by highlighting a pledge to commit $150 billion to renewable energy investments and a willingness to listen to rural lawmakers about flyover country concerns.

But the twice presidential-vetoed Farm Bill may hold the most sway with rural folk on their presidential preferences.

A recent poll by the Center for Rural Strategies reports that McCain holds a strong 51-41 lead over Obama with the pool of largely socially and fiscally conservative rural voters in Colorado and 12 key swing states. McCain got high marks on taxes and the war, but the candidates were tied on their ability to handle the economy, the respondents’ No. 1 concern.

Of particular note, though, is that the poll was conducted in mid-September just as news was breaking on the Wall Street credit and mortgage crisis, the depth of which was then largely unknown. How McCain’s continued poor response to the economic meltdown will affect his standing with rural voters, who make up 20 percent of the electorate, remains to be seen. An Oct. 6 NBC News/Wall Street Journal national poll shows Obama up six points, fueled in part by voters’ belief that he responded more effectively to economic concerns over the last few weeks than McCain.

One important predictor of electoral kismet with rural voters is support for the Farm Bill — the $288 billion package is largely perceived by the public as an agriculture trade and subsidy program but in reality extends to a host of rural investment opportunities through economic development, broadband expansion, food safety, renewable energy projects and infrastructure programs.

Sen. Salazar referred to his Illinois colleague as a champion of the Farm Bill. While Obama publicly favored the bill and McCain supported the president’s veto, neither candidate actually cast a vote on the original Senate bill nor the override bill, known as the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008, brought forward by the House of Representatives that passed on June 18.

But after Congress turned the latest stopgap $630 billion spending measure into a $6.7 billion Christmas bonanza of earmarks and then quickly approved a $700 billion Wall Street bailout just days later, concerns have been raised on how either candidate will fund the myriad of programs each is proposing on the campaign stump.

The pork-filled Farm Bill is a prime target.

Sen. Salazar likened the nation’s current financial woes to “a legacy of eight years of failed economic policies under George Bush,” which he described as a “horrific picture” of continued Bush policies in a potential McCain administration. “We need to do a lot to get the economy out of the ditch and get it back on track.” Salazar argued that investing the $10 billion per month that currently goes to support the Iraq War could be put toward job-producing renewable energy projects in the Farm Bill and shoring up weak financial institution regulatory bodies.

Infrastructure projects was the top reason why Rep. John Salazar said the bill needs to continue even under the current economic crisis. He cited a Congressional Research Service study that for every billion dollars put toward economic projects 47,500 new jobs are created.

State Sen. Isgar argued that the Farm Bill revitalizes food-producing rural America and is the one thing we have to afford even with a shrinking public pocketbook.

The Obama Rural Vote team will have the opportunity to make that pitch directly to voters in 16 planned Colorado town meetings beginning Wednesday. The barn-storming rural policy tour will feature former Gov. Roy Romer, who hails from Holly and is a former Holly-native, rancher and John Deere equipment dealer; the San Luis Valley-bred Salazar brothers; Gov. Bill Ritter, who grew up on a dry-land wheat farm; and rancher, wind farm owner and state Agriculture Commissioner John Stulp. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, will join them on the Thursday leg of the trip.

Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2008
Community Gathering in Sterling with Gov. Romer
Logan County Courthouse
Main Street and S. 3rd Street
Sterling, Colo.
9 a.m.
For more information, call (970) 472-4263.

Small Business Walk in Sterling with Gov. Romer
Main Street
Sterling, Colo.
9:30 a.m.
For more information, call (970) 472-4263.

Community Gathering and Lunch in Fort Morgan with Gov. Ritter, Gov. Romer, and Sen. Salazar
Country Steak Out
19592 E. 8th Ave.
Fort Morgan, Colo.
11:45 a.m.
For more information, call (970) 472-4263.

Community Gathering in Windsor Gov. Ritter, Gov. Romer, and Sen. Salazar
Location to be determined
Windsor, Colo.
2:45 p.m.
For more information, call (970) 472-4263.

Campaign for Change Office Opening with Sen. Salazar and Gov. Romer
1642 8th Ave.
Greeley, Colo.
5:15 p.m.
For more information, call (970) 472-4263.

Thursday, Oct. 9, 2008
Breakfast with Gov. Romer, Sen. Salazar, Sen. Klobuchar, and Rep. Salazar
City Diner, 2nd Floor
1002 N. Santa Fe Ave.
Pueblo, Colo.
8 a.m.
For more information, call (719) 778-9976.

Community Gathering in Canon City with Gov. Ritter, Gov. Romer, Sen. Salazar, and Sen. Klobuchar
Location to be determined
Canon City, Colo.
10:05 a.m.
For more information, call (719) 778-9976.

Community Gathering in Salida with Gov. Romer, Sen. Salazar, and Sen. Klobuchar
Boathouse Cantina
228 North F St.
Salida, Colo.
12:20 p.m.
For more information, call (970) 245-4477.

Community Gathering in Gunnison with Gov. Romer, Sen. Salazar, and Sen. Klobuchar
Western State College
The Aspinall-Wilson Center
Gunnison, Colo.
3:05 p.m.
For more information, call (970) 245-4477.

Community Gathering in Montrose with Gov. Romer, Sen. Salazar, and Sen. Klobuchar
Location to be determined
Montrose, Colo.
5:45 p.m.
For more information, call (970) 245-4477.

Friday, Oct. 8, 2008
Coffee in Olathe with Gov. Romer and Sen. Salazar
4th and Main (White Café)
318 Main St.
Olathe, Colo.
7:30 a.m.
For more information, call (970) 245-4477.

Community Gathering in Hotchkiss with Gov. Romer, Sen. Salazar, and Commissioner Stulp
Heritage Hall (Inside the fairgrounds)
403 E. Bridge St.
Hotchkiss, Colo.
9:30 a.m.
For more information, call (970) 245-4477.

Community Gathering in Grand Junction with Gov. Romer, Sen. Salazar, and Commissioner Stulp
Lincoln Park Pavilion
North Avenue and 12th Street
Grand Junction, Colo.
noon
For more information, call (970) 245-4477.

Campaign for Change Office Visit in Glenwood Springs with Gov. Romer, Sen. Salazar, and Commissioner Stulp
216 6th St.
Glenwood Springs, Colo.
2:50 p.m.
For more information, call (970) 245-4477.

Dinner in Edwards with Gov. Romer, Sen. Salazar, and Commissioner Stulp
Woody’s
27 Main St.
Edwards, Colo.
5:30 p.m.
For more information, call (970) 245-4477.

Campaign for Change Office Visit in Dillon with Gov. Romer, Sen. Salazar, and Commissioner Stulp
115 Village
Dillon, Colo.
7:30 p.m.
For more information, call (970) 245-4477.

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