David Yepsen wrote a piece in the Des Moines Register warning that it would be perilous for the presidential candidates to ignore rural America at their parties' nominating conventions:
I'm not talking about pandering here. Nor am I talking about just the "farm" vote. I'm talking about the thousands of Americans who live on the countryside and in small towns. Some are farmers. Most aren't.
They face many of the same problems other Americans face - jobs, health care, senior issues and drug abuse. They are patriotic Americans - many military people come out of these areas - yet because they live in the hinterlands they often feel ignored.
Lots of Americans feel that way these days but that's especially true in rural parts of the country, many of which are losing population and vitality.
It would be politically smart for each presidential candidate and party speakers to specifically address the concerns of rural Americans in their convention addresses. Conventions aren't the place for "farm speeches" or big policy addresses. But they are the place where messages and themes can be stressed. Both parties should reach out to rural voters.
Why? Look at the battleground states. Missouri, Ohio, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania. All are states with sizeable rural populations. Yes, some have urban areas in them but the rural vote in each could prove pivotal in tipping their electoral votes.
I agree with Yepsen that rural and small-town voters are a critical swing bloc, and that was one reason I thought John Edwards would have been a strong general election candidate. I recommend ManfromMiddletown's piece explaining why "rural voters are the key to the kingdom."
That said, it strikes me as odd to look to convention speeches for proof of whether the presidential candidates are ignoring rural America.
Let's examine what Barack Obama and John McCain are doing to reach Americans who do not live in major metropolitan areas.
There is no plan for rural America on the issues page of John McCain's website. There is only a page labeled "agricultural policies," which contains nine paragraphs about farming, trade and food policies.
Obama's website includes a comprehensive Plan to Support Rural Communities. It addresses not only agricultural policies but also economic opportunities, small business development, environmental protection, renewable energy, communications and transportation infrastructure, attracting teachers and health care providers to rural areas, and dealing with the methamphetamine crisis.
But anyone can slap a plan on a website, right? What are the candidates doing to reach out to those small-town voters who feel ignored?
Let's look at each of the battleground states Yepsen mentions in his column.
Obama had about 40 field offices before the Iowa caucuses and has established 30 offices in Iowa for the general election. His campaign has also organized canvassing in dozens of Iowa towns this summer (see here and here). In August, surrogates for Obama are holding
numerous "rural roundtables" across Iowa to focus on issues affecting small-town and rural residents.
John McCain has six field offices in Iowa, none of them in small towns. I haven't heard of a lot of campaign activity on his behalf in small towns either.
Let's turn to Ohio, a state McCain must hold if he is to have any chance of winning 270 electoral votes. McCain has nine campaign offices in Ohio (although there's no phone or e-mail contact information for these offices on the McCain Ohio website). Obama will have 56 offices supporting his field operation in Ohio, and 44 of those offices are already open.
I don't consider Minnesota much of a battleground state in light of recent polling. But since Yepsen mentioned it, and McCain may select Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty as his running mate, where do the candidates stand? Obama has 11 field offices in Minnesota, while McCain has seven.
Obama built a large campaign organization in Pennsylvania leading up to that state's primary and has opened 18 field offices there for the general election. The Pennsylvania page of McCain's website lists a "Pennsylvania & Ohio Regional Office" in Columbus, Ohio and just one local office in Harrisburg. Looks like McCain hardly plans any outreach in that state.
But you get my point. Not only does Obama have a plan for rural America, he has a campaign presence in dozens of small towns where McCain does not. His staff and volunteers are making contact with thousands of voters who will only hear from McCain through their television sets.
I don't know how much Obama plans to speak about rural issues on Thursday night, but he certainly can't be accused of ignoring the concerns of voters outside cities and suburbs.
If you are planning to volunteer for Obama in a small town, take some time to become familiar with the Plan to Support Rural Communities. AlanF has good advice for canvassers in this diary, and Pete Mohanty lays out the reasons that canvassing is an effective campaign tool in this research paper.