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The Obama rural message: Remind, defend and attack

CHICAGO — President Barack Obama’s campaign team is mounting a three-pronged rural re-election effort to remind voters in the heartland of the actions the Obama administration has taken to help rural America, to defend the president against attacks he has overregulated agriculture and to suggest that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s policies would hurt rural America.

Obama for America, the official name of the re-election campaign, has assembled “a truth team to debunk the myths” about the administration’s actions in rural America and “share the accomplishments,” a campaign policy aide who asked not to be named told The Hagstrom Report in an August 9 interview.

“Our goal is to build a conversation with those voters early and keep that conversation going,” the aide said. “Once they understand the president’s policies and all he has done for rural America, there is no reason not to support him.”

Campaign aides said that the drought and the House’s failure to pass a farm bill have given Obama unexpected openings in the campaign.

“The Republican leadership in the House is blocking the true farm bill,” an Obama rural campaign aide said. “Romney has not taken any position on the farm bill except to endorse the Ryan budget, [which would] balance the budget on the back of rural Americans. In terms of drought, the first time he reached out to farmers, it wasn’t to a family farmer but one who owns 54 farms. And he came out against the wind protection tax credit.”

The campaign also noted that under Obama’s direction the Agriculture Department has taken several steps to try to soften the impact of the drought. In a statement issued through its Rural Americans for Obama group, the campaign said that Obama “is strengthening the security of the rural middle class by increasing low-interest loans for farmers affected by the historic drought, working with insurance companies to extend payment deadlines and opening new lands for livestock farmers to graze their herds.”

When he campaigned last week in Iowa, Obama noted the actions that USDA has taken and called for passage of the farm bill. Republicans responded that the Senate should take up the House-passed disaster aid bill, but Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., has said that only a full five-year farm bill will give farmers long term assurance of policy.

Stabenow has also pointed out that the House-passed disaster bill covers only cattle and lost trees and that the Senate-passed farm bill is more generous to cattle producers and provides aid to fruit producers who have lost fruit in frosts and drought.

The Senate-passed farm bill, Stabenow has noted, includes a dairy title that troubled dairy farmers want and makes it easier for a wide range of farmers to get crop insurance.

Even before the drought and disaster aid became issues, the Obama for America campaign had assembled a 10-point list of the administration’s accomplishments in rural America and distributing that information to field offices in all 50 states. (See following story.)

Campaign officials also acknowledged that they have to refute Republican attacks on several Environmental Protection Agency issues and one Labor Department issue.

From interviews and the campaign website, here are the issues on which the Obama campaign is attempting to respond:
  • Farm dust: Republicans have said that EPA wants to regulate the dust that comes from driving grain trucks and equipment on country roads. As part of a regular review of the Clean Air Act, EPA considered tighter regulations on particulate matter where there is concern that air pollution is causing higher rates of asthma and other diseases, but EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson issued a letter on Oct. 14, 2011 that farm dust would not be regulated. Despite the letter, Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., has sponsored a bill that would stop EPA from regulating farm dust, but the White House has said Obama would veto the bill because it could interfere with the regulation of industrial dust.
  • Spilled milk: EPA also considered regulating milk spilled from trucks as an oil, but decided against that. Obama himself took credit for eliminating the rule in his 2012 State of the Union message. “We got rid of one rule from 40 years ago that could have forced some dairy farmers to spend $10,000 per year proving that they could contain a spill — because milk was somehow classified as oil,” he said. “With a rule like that, I guess it was worth crying over spilled milk.”
  • EPA planes spying on farmers and ranchers: Republicans have charged that EPA drones like the unmanned aircraft used in military operations are flying over Midwestern farms looking for violations. But EPA officials and the Obama truth team have said that the only EPA planes flying over rural America are four-seater planes staffed by professionals looking for massive examples of runoff from concentrated animal feeding operations that would pollute drinking water and swimming areas and endanger the public health. EPA has conducted flights for more than 10 years as a cost-efficient way to enforce the Clean Water Act and has never started an enforcement action basely solely on those photographs, the campaign said.
  • Child labor regulations: The Labor Department proposed a rewrite of the rule that allows the children of farmers and other youth to work on farms at a younger age than in other areas of employment and perform tasks that some advocates consider dangerous. Republicans and farm groups campaigned to stop the rule. The Labor Department withdrew the rule and has announced that it will not be revisited as long as Obama is president.

On Romney, much of the Obama campaign’s message to rural America is the same that it is to the rest of the country — that the Republican’s policies would help the rich and hurt the middle class.

But the campaign has also issued a one-page statement that Romney’s support for the budget plan of his chosen running mate, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., would “undercut our nation’s rural communities and undermine our nation’s economy” because it would:
  • Require farmers to pay more for crop insurance
  • Cut rural education, small business, housing and economic development programs, “potentially leaving 5,000 farmers and ranches without a farm safety net, 230 rural communities without hospitals and schools and 1,700 small businesses without the loans and financing that they need to succeed.”
  • Gut federal farmland conservation efforts
  • Make “extreme cuts” in nutrition and summer feeding programs, “potentially dropping more than 8 million people from these critical programs that strengthen middle-class security.”

Romney has said that even though he endorsed Ryan’s budget earlier this year and picked him as a running mate, he has not endorsed every line of it.