Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar has a message for her fellow Democratic candidates trying to crack President Donald Trump's hold on rural voters: The party’s nominee needs to be able offer more than “a bunch of policies on a piece of paper."
The Minnesota senator (shown above) made a direct appeal to rural voters that stood out among the messages that the candidates have delivered while crisscrossing Iowa in recent days and stopping at the Iowa State Fair.
Most of the candidates, if they mentioned farmers and rural voters at all, portrayed them as victims of Trump’s trade policies or potential beneficiaries of their climate policies.
Klobuchar, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, is trailing badly in the polls but she used her appearance at the fair to take clear swipes at fellow senators, including Elizabeth Warren, who is running No. 2 in Iowa, while also going after President Donald Trump.
She told fairgoers on Saturday that it’s “pretty important to have a candidate from the Midwest, the heartland, right now.”
In what sounded like a reference to the criticism that farmers often receive from progressives, Klobuchar said “we need to bridge this divide between rural and urban and make sure that people that live in metropolitan areas understand that food just doesn’t magically show up on their table,” Klobuchar told fairgoers.
She went on, “We need strong farm policies, and we don’t need a president that is treating rural areas and our farmers like they are a bunch of poker chips in one of his bankrupt casinos, because that’s what happening right now.”
Klobuchar also criticized Trump for the Environmental Protection Agency’s continued granting of exemptions to small refineries from annual biofuel usage mandates.
Klobuchar didn’t name Warren in her speech, but when asked afterward by a reporter what she thought about Warren’s new agricultural policy, which calls for the federal government to prop up commodity prices and reduce production, Klobuchar responded that “my policy is not just words on a page,” echoing the point she made in her speech.
Klobuchar noted that several other senators running for president voted against the 2014 farm bill but then supported the 2018 version. She didn’t name them, but Warren, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker all voted for the 2018 farm bill after opposing the 2014 version.
Warren, Klobuchar and Gillibrand all released agriculture and rural policy proposals in recent days. Warren’s plan, the most ambitious by far, would build on USDA’s existing loan and conservation programs to take land out of production and ensure that farmers can forfeit crops to the government if necessary to ensure growers can cover their cost of production. She also would put $85 billion into expansion of rural broadband and fight mergers of rural hospitals, she says.
Warren pitched her rural and ag proposals on Friday night at the Iowa Democratic Party's annual Wing Ding in Clear Lake. "No matter where you live in America you ought to have a chance .. and you ought to be able to count on a government that is on your side," Warren told the crowd.
Referring to her farm policy, she declared, "I support supply management."
There is little sign so far that Klobuchar's rural focus is catching on in Iowa. Former Vice President Joe Biden continues to lead the race in the state, with support of 28% of likely caucus goers, followed by Warren at 19% and California Sen. Kamala Harris at 11%. Klobuchar is tied for sixth with 3%.
Harris wasn’t in the Senate in 2014, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, who was fourth in the Monmouth poll at 9%, supported the farm bill that year.
Warren, who appeared at the fair later Saturday afternoon, spoke for only 10 minutes and focused on her signature proposal to impose a 2% wealth tax on fortunes exceeding $50 million. The revenue would fund a variety of programs, including the broadband expansion.
Warren mentioned agriculture only in reference to agribusiness companies: She listed “Big Ag” along with “Big Tech, Big Finance, Big Pharma” as sectors that are controlling the economy to the detriment of the public. They “roll over their employees, they roll over their customers, they roll over their communities,” she said.
Sanders, who appeared at the fair on Sunday, often refers to his home state being rural but he didn't mention rural issues. Instead he stuck to his basic campaign themes of promising Medicare for all, free college tuition, cancelling student debt and demanding action on climate change, which he says is the biggest national security challenge.
"What the scientists tell us ... is that when Donald Trump tells us that climate change is a hoax, Donald Trump does not know what he’s talking about," Sanders said. "What the scientists tell us, unlike Donald Trump, is not only that climate change is real but if we don’t get our act together in the next 12 years there will be irreparable damage to our country and the entire world. Together we will stand up to the fossil fuel industry."
Harris, like Klobuchar, attacked Trump’s trade war with China.
Trump “engages in a so-called trade policy that was trade by tweet, born out of his fragile ego in a way that was about unilateral action and that has resulted in farmers in this great state looking at bankruptcy, soybeans rotting in bins,” she said.
Harris later defended to reporters her own opposition to trade deals popular with farm groups, including the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement and the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, from which Trump withdrew the United States.
“Trade policy for me is always going to be about protecting American workers, about protecting our environment and having those part of our priorities. It is for that reason and many others that I am not in favor what I call NAFTA 2.0,” she said, referring to USMCA.
Harris is typical of the Democratic field in that her suggestion for resolving the impasse with China is to work more closely with allies, including the European Union.
One candidate trailing badly in the polls both in Iowa and nationwide, Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, actually went after farmers themselves, attacking the use of antibiotics and hormones in livestock and poultry production and linking their practices to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico and other environmental problems.
“We have an agricultural system that’s a monopoly and that clearly is destroying our soil and our environment,” he said in a speech at the fair. The solution, he said, was to move farmers to more soil-saving practices.
“I want the Democratic Party to be able to go into rural America and say we have an agenda to move to regenerative agriculture, so that you can start making money again,” Ryan said. “I will tell the farmers of the United States that you will make a hell of a lot more money off a president Tim Ryan than you will ever make off of President Donald Trump.”
Later, talking to reporters, Ryan also got in swipes at livestock and poultry producers. “We’ve got to move from the industrial meat to the more grass fed meats that don’t have all of the hormones and antibiotics.”
Asked by Agri-Pulse what he thought of Iowa pork production, he said, “They can raise pigs, I just don’t want too many hormones in them.” He was asked if he considered pork production environmentally sound. “No, it’s not.”
But that didn’t stop Ryan from exiting the media briefing to head across the fairgrounds to stop in at the Iowa Pork Producers Association’s Pork Tent, a popular photo opportunity for candidates, who stop by the grills to flip pork chops.
IPPA members said later that Ryan had nothing negative to say about their industry when he stopped by the tent.
Hannah Pagel and Delaney Howell contributed to this report.
For more news, go to Agri-Pulse.com.