By Sara Wyant
© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.
(Editor’s note: When Editor Sara Wyant is not covering Capitol Hill for Agri-Pulse, she lives in central Missouri on the Lake of the Ozarks.)
Washington, Nov 5 – One of life’s simple pleasures in Rural America is the ability to walk outside at night and see bright stars glistening against a sea of darkness. Glaze upward long enough and you can usually spot the Big Dipper and the occasional shooting star. No big city lights diluting the sharp contrasts, no circulating lights promoting car dealerships, and no screaming sirens to interfere with the magic of the moment.
It was especially pleasing to walk outdoors after spending countless hours sorting through mid-term election returns. But I couldn’t help but turn back to the elections and how President Barack Obama must feel after experiencing one of the worst nights for Democrats in decades. A rising national and international star just three years earlier, he swept the country with promises of “hope” and “change,” only to witness many of those same voters now reject the policies he’s heralded.
But the elections didn’t represent a glowing endorsement for Republicans either, as we reported in this week’s edition of www.agri-pulse.com
Republicans like Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who will likely remain as the ranking GOP member in the Senate, will have their own set of challenges cut out for them. Earlier this week, McConnell reminded his fellow Republicans that they would not be able to take Tuesday’s midterm elections for granted, because the results reflect more of a “report card” on the Obama administration’s first two years in office, than a strict endorsement of the GOP.
Just how significant were the numbers?
The Republican Party gained at least 61 seats in the House, and when a dozen or so undecided races are finalized it may well rise to at least 64 or 65 seats. Democrats lost six U.S. Senate seats in the midterm elections, but still will maintain control of the chamber with 53 out of the 100 seats, including two held by independents aligned with the party.
The coasts stayed loyal to Democrats, but major changes occurred in much of the flyover country in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and North and South Dakota. But even New Hampshire turned from blue to red.
One of the most graphic presentations on the change was on the ABC News website: http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/2010_Elections/page?id=10476449
(Note: These maps don’t reflect the fact that incumbent Sen. Patty Murray declared victory over GOP challenger Dino Rossi in Washington. Sen. Bill Brady just conceded the Illinois Governor’s race to incumbent Democrat Pat Quinn. And GOP businessman Rick Scott will be the next governor of Florida, after Alex Sink trailed by roughly 50,000 votes.)
In his post-election press conference on Wednesday, the president told reporters it was a “shellacking” and “it feels bad.” But how should we interpret that? Responding to questions, he reverted to talking about the huge problems he inherited and the communication problems that blocked people from “getting” his accomplishments. He agreed that many voters felt government was growing too large and intrusive. But he maintained his were still the right policies.
“It would be hard to argue that we’re going backwards,” he said. “I think what you can argue is we’re stuck in neutral.”
Those comments reminded me of a conversation we had with Rep. Marion Berry (D-AR) last year in which he lamented that the president didn’t understand the potential losses he could face in the mid-term elections, especially in Rural America. In 1994, President Clinton witnessed the loss of 52 Democratic House seats.
When this was brought up, the president said “the big difference here and in ’94 was you’ve got me.” Berry recalled.
Much of Rural America, those vast portions of the country where independents voted in large numbers against their current Democratic congressmen, may still like President Obama personally. But they would argue that the truck he’s been driving is not stuck in neutral. It’s driving down the wrong road.
His brilliant campaign strategy, in which he reached out to build grass roots support across Rural America, does seem to be parked somewhere. Prior to the election, Obama set up hundreds of offices, including one in my hometown of Camdenton, MO. He was willing to talk to rural media like Agri-Pulse. After the election, his media team didn’t bother to look up from their blackberrys and acknowledge we were standing in the room. Their attention was focused on the New York Times, the Washington Post and CNN.
It’s not that the White House and USDA didn’t’ understand that Rural America mattered. For rural reporters, there has been no lack of information. We get so many press releases each day and requests for press conferences that key messages are diluted or, all too often, ignored.
Of course, so many of the USDA releases delivered what appeared to be a record amount of grants and project funds to key voter groups. Here’s a few from just last week:
- USDA announced $26.7 million in community facility investments in four states funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act) which will be matched with $1.2 million from other sources.
- USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) awarded 30 grants for more than $18 million for organic producers and processors. Another $4 million was awarded through the Organic Transitions Program (ORG).
- $348,310 in grant funding to the Rural Community Development Resources Center for Latino Farmers and Ranchers.
- 345,825 in grant funding for the National Black Growers Council (NBGC)
- $400,000 in grant funding for the East Arkansas Enterprise Community (EAEC) to conduct training, outreach and technical assistance for socially disadvantaged farmers, ranchers and forest landowners.
- $399,388 in grant funding for the Federation of Southern Cooperatives through the Outreach Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers (OASDFR)
- $1.8 million in second round grant funding to educational institutions throughout the country to conduct training, outreach and technical assistance for socially disadvantaged farmers, ranchers and forest landowners, including: Albany State University, GA $340,580; Alcorn State University, MS $300,000; Board of regents, NHSE, University of Nevada-Reno, NV $344,591; Little Big Horn College, MT, $325,099; Tuskegee University, AL, $213,887; Virginia State University, VA, $300,000
- $79,983 in grant funding for the Rural Coalition to conduct training, outreach and technical assistance for socially disadvantaged farmers, ranchers and forest landowners.
- Over $23 million in loans and over $6 million in grants in 36 states to to boost small business development, create jobs, and strengthen rural communities through the Rural Microentreprenuer Assistance Program (RMAP), which was authorized by the 2008 Farm Bill.
Granted, this won’t be the first or last Administration to make sure key stakeholder groups receive checks just prior to an election. But in this case, it didn’t appear to have the desired impact. Many of those voters would have likely supported Democrats anyway. Others saw the dollar signs as part of the government spending problem.
So how should the President move forward over the next two years? He should start by taking more time to visit with people in flyover country and truly understand their needs and concerns. Many of them are hurting for jobs, but that’s not the case everywhere. In North and South Dakota, the unemployment rate is under 4.5%.
Rural America can determine whether or not President Obama is a shooting star starting to fall out of the sky or one that has staying power.
To return to the News Index page, click: www.agri-pulse.com