Obama's small-town outreach will crush McCain's

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.

Obama has already opened 31 field offices in Missouri, which isn’t even one of his campaign’s top red state targets. McCain has six campaign offices in that state.

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.

It’s more lopsided in Wisconsin: Obama has 31 field offices, while McCain has six.

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.

I could go on about Obama’s 35 field offices in Virginia, 22 offices in North Carolina, 26 offices in Indiana and four offices in North Dakota, one of the most rural states.

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.  

  • Not to be contrary

    But I would imagine that the RNC will handle GOTv just like the last time. What are seeing on the ground from those guys? Also, this election may be more about message than turnout. Obama had a great ground game all year during the primaries but still fell short in the kinds of places you mentioned in PA and OH. Did he fall short, or did he make it a lot closer in rural areas than it otherwise would have been?

    Not trolling, just probing.

    • I find it very hard to believe

      that the GOP ground game will be as good this year as it was for a very popular (with the Republican base) incumbent president in 2004. There simply won’t be the enthusiasm for McCain that there was for Bush. I’m not saying most Republicans won’t vote for McCain, but I don’t think nearly as many will volunteer for him.

      I sense that many of the McCain field offices are basically state GOP offices. When you look on the various McCain state websites, a lot of the contact e-mail addresses suggest the people are state GOP staffers.

      Given that Kerry had basically nothing going in these rural areas, I have to believe that Obama will be able to cut into McCain’s margin.  

      • What are you seeing from the Iowa GOP as opposed to 2004?

        And what are you seeing from Team Obama that you did not see from Kerry? I know the Iowa Democratic Party is second to none for GOTV? Sorry if I ask so much, I’m the type who needs to know everything in every conrner of every state.  

        • I don't claim to know

          the inner workings of the Republican machine, but I strongly sense a lack of enthusiasm about McCain, compared to the almost unified Republican love for Bush in 2004. Remember, his approval ratings were still hovering around 50 percent at that time.

          The Iowa Democratic Party and Kerry didn’t have as extensive a field operation in 2004 as Obama does now. Also, I believe the huge emphasis on banking early votes by absentee ballot was a waste of volunteer resources in 2004. We were calling reliable voters again and again, urging them to send in absentee ballot requests, offering to pick up their ballots, and so on.

          Many people just prefer to vote on election day. We should have focused on unreliable voters in the absentee ballot effort–in fact, that’s one thing the Iowa Democratic Party did differently in 2006.

          The Obama campaign also is doing more to register new voters than Kerry did and reaching out to independents a lot more than Kerry ever did.

          Additionally, though I haven’t volunteered for Obama myself, his canvassers seem more focused on persuasion as far as I can tell. When I went door-knocking in September and October 2004, I was not given any script or talking points for persuading undecided voters. My job was to identify Kerry supporters so we could turn them out later.  

          • I'm hearing from my field organizer

            about staying focused and really pushing the last two months of canvassing.  They were reminded recently at a staff meeting that the Iowa GOP tends to push late, push hard, and play dirty.  We’ve got to get absentee ballots (particularly from what they’re calling “tend Democratic” voters – those registered Dems who don’t always vote and registered Ind. and Rep. voters who have voted Democratic in the past) in the bank as early as possible.  I carry around absentee ballot request forms in my bag and am always ready to offer one and deliver it for any Obama voters I meet.  Actually got one from the barista at the coffee shop a few weeks ago!

            • I have some problem with the vote early strategy

              I can see some wisdom in it so people don’t change their minds. On the other hand I wonder what the impact will be on the down ticket races who haven’t been campaigning for the past year and a half as Obama has.

              Also, when I tried to get one older guy who said he was voting for Obama to fill one out, he said “now listen, I’ve voted in every election since Eisenhower, it isn’t like I’m going to forget to vote.” My personal policy since then is to offer it as a convenience, but not to be pushy about it.  

              • I agree...

                I like to offer it – more as a service or convenience than any sort of pushy “you should do this” kind of thing.  Most of the people I’ve helped early vote are definitely voting Democratic in down ticket races too.  Most of them are older people who appreciate the help and not having to think about getting out of the house and waiting in line on Nov 4, especially if the weather is lousy or the lines are long at the polls (which is likely this year).

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