That assessment of Francis Thicke’s incredible grassroots campaign for Iowa Agriculture Secretary came from food writer Michael Pollan via Twitter. Another assessment, via a pollster, is that it’s winnable, but more about that below.
For people who care about what they eat and how much they pay for it, Pollan’s tweet is not hyperbole. It is a tribute to an organic dairy farmer with no prior political experience who has put together a professional statewide campaign, and is now within three percentage points of a well-financed Republican. Francis Thicke (pronounced Tickee) does have experience in government. He worked for the USDA after getting his PhD in Agronomy, and he has been advocating policies like reducing the concentration of market power in agriculture for years. But with this campaign, he is trying to get his hands on the government machinery and change what it does.
Iowa is the 500-lb. gorilla of American agriculture, producing more corn, soybeans, hogs and chickens than any other state, and it has tremendous influence on national agricultural policy. Pollan explained to Grist why this election is so important:
To the extent that the 'farm bloc' is shown to be much less unified in its resistance to change, the more likely that change is to come in Washington….As the scandal over Jack DeCoster's egg 'farm' demonstrated, Iowans are deeply divided over the industrialization of their agriculture….The triumph of a reform candidate like Francis Thicke would demonstrate to Washington that a change in agricultural policy would in fact be welcome in much of the farm belt, and that legislators who purport to represent farm states by simply blocking reform more closely reflect the interests of agribusiness than that of their own constituents.
Francis Thicke’s message is simple.
Produce more food locally to create more jobs, and grow healthy food that consumers can afford.
Support sustainable farming methods, to keep soils and nutrients on the farm instead of wasting them on killing the Gulf of Mexico.
Power the farm with biofuels produced on the farm from sustainably produced crops, and with the wind that blows over it.
Bust up agricultural monopolies that keep prices high, take profits away from farmers, and keep consumers in the dark about what they are eating.
He even wrote a book about his vision for agriculture.
Along with this simple and powerful vision, Francis Thicke has a diverse and creative campaign team, many committed volunteers, and has received support from all over the country, thanks to attention from Thom Hartmann, Grist, and other outlets with audiences outside of Iowa. I have met Francis several times through this campaign, and he is the real deal—brilliant, passionate about his belief in a new vision for agriculture, unpretentious, funny and kind. Like Tom Harkin, his friends love him, and everyone who gets to know him becomes his friend. If he sits down with a table full of strangers, they all want to know how they can help before dinner is over.
His opponent, Bill Northey, has friends too. He is well-funded by Monsanto, the Koch brothers, Syngenta, DuPont and their allies in Big Ag. But it turns out that all that money can’t buy him love.
The Thicke campaign conducted a poll recently that shows Francis only three points behind Mr. Factory Eggs ‘R Us. The spread of 38% to 35% is within the margin of error of 3.9%. The poll of 1002 likely voters shows that the race is very competitive, with 71% saying they would vote to replace Northey or would consider someone else. Why they would feel that way about the guy who said there really wasn’t much he could do about salmonella in eggs? Of the people who knew who Francis is, 82% had a favorable impression.
Better yet, after people were read a few sentences about each candidate’s background and platform, the independents wanted to be Francis’ friend, too. They shifted from favoring Northey by 20% to favoring Francis by 15%, and Northey dropped to 24% support overall. The race can be won, and turnout for Francis will only help Roxanne Conlin and Chet Culver, who are not doing as well in recent polling.
To repeat the shift in the poll in the electorate at large, Francis needs to get this commercial on the air.
I know there are a lot of “asks” out there, but a few dollars for TV could help to win a close election. Please help if you can. This is an extraordinary man running for an office that could affect all of our lives in the years to come.
Disclaimer: I am an enthusiastic volunteer, donor and fan, but I do not work for the Thicke campaign. I believe in Francis, and I know that he is one of the best candidates running this year. When I listen to him talk about his vision for sustainable agriculture powered by renewable energy and producing safe and healthy food, I have hope for the future.