The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens


Farm bill opponent McCain stumps in farm country


BISMARCK, N.D. — Was it a smart move for Republican Senate candidates in farm and ranch states to bring Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to help them campaign in the final days before the election? Or will it be a reminder that McCain opposes the farm bill, the sugar program and the Renewable Fuel Standard?
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
McCain came to North Dakota this week to campaign for Republican Rep. Rick Berg, who is running for the Senate seat held by Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., who is not running for re-election.

Berg’s opponent, Democratic candidate Heidi Heitkamp, believes McCain’s presence only reminded voters that he has opposed farm programs and that the House Republican leadership has refused to bring up the farm bill this year.

Most analysts rate the Berg-Heitkamp race a toss-up.


Democratic Senate candidate Heidi Heitkamp speaks at a campaign appearance in Bismarck, N.D., today, with Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., right. (Jerry Hagstrom/The Hagstrom Report)

At a get-out-the-vote rally here today, Heitkamp said Berg invited McCain to the state to try to come up with an event to match former President Bill Clinton’s trip to Fargo on Monday to campaign for her. Clinton stressed Heitkamp’s independence, noting that as North Dakota attorney general she sued his administration and won.

Heitkamp’s campaign also released video of a McCain speech in which he called the sugar program a “masterful scam.”

Heitkamp’s campaign manager said in a statement, “Congressman Berg first claimed to support the farm bill, but then voted the party line to slash $180 billion from farm programs, which led to historic uncertainty for our farmers when the farm bill expired.”

“For Congressman Berg to now campaign with someone in North Dakota who opposed the farm bill and called it a ‘masterful scam’ shows that he is more interested in doing what his Washington leaders tell him than standing up for North Dakota,” the campaign manager said.

Conrad, who is retiring, joined Heitkamp at today’s rally and will campaign with her over the weekend, working to keep his seat in Democratic hands. He noted that he had hired Heitkamp as a lawyer when he was state tax commissioner, and that she had gone on to become tax commissioner and the attorney general of the state.

Conrad also noted that he was 38 points behind when he started his first run for the Senate in 1986 and still won election.

In addition to stops today in Bismarck at a labor union hall and an Indian college, Conrad, Heitkamp and other Democratic candidates traveled by bus to Fort Yates, Mandan, Killdeer and Watford City in the western part of the state. A Heitkamp aide said they also made unscheduled stops in small towns.

Heitkamp’s campaign weekend will continue to Minot and Williston and end with a rally Monday evening in Fargo, the state’s largest city.


Heidi Heitkamp and Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D.

McCain, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, toured the University of North Dakota aviation facility in Grand Forks on Thursday as the guest of Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.

Grand Forks is waiting for an Air Force decision on a proposal to lease 200 acres at the air base for a campus for business and government entities involved in the aviation industry, and to hear from the Federal Aviation Administration on whether the state will be a test site for integration of unmanned aircraft into the national airspace, according to the Grand Forks Herald.

McCain promised that the military aviation part of the federal budget will be shielded from cuts, and that he would support North Dakota’s bid to be a large part of the military’s aviation operations, but the Herald noted that McCain does not have direct decision-making power over these issues.

McCain also attend a Berg rally.

“A few hundred people” attended the rally, according to the Herald, but Heitkamp said today he attracted fewer than 200 — a hint that Clinton was a bigger attraction. Heitkamp said that McCain, who was prisoner of war in Vietnam, is “entitled to respect. He is an American hero.” But she added that she doubts his presence helped her opponent.

McCain also campaigned on Wednesday in Billings with Rep. Dennis Rehberg, R-Mont., who is running against Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and was scheduled today to appear in Omaha at a rally for Deb Fischer, the Republican candidate for the open Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb. Former Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., is the Democratic candidate.

Politico, the Washington newspaper, noted this week that McCain has been barnstorming the country for Republican Senate candidates, and that if the Republicans take the Senate majority he would become chairman of the Senate Armed Service Committee, a position once held by the late Arizona Republican senator, Barry Goldwater, who, like McCain, lost a presidential race.

McCain won North Dakota, Nebraska and Montana in the 2008 race, but nationally got only 50 percent of the rural vote, an unusually low figure for a Republican presidential candidate.