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August 2004

Rural Americans Hold the Keys to the 2004 Election

Bob Stallman
American Farm Bureau
By Bob Stallman
President, American Farm Bureau

Modern America increasingly sports a metropolitan posture and suburban attitude, but the boulevard to the White House and Capitol Hill still has to traverse the crop-bounded blacktops, dusty section roads and pickup-lined main streets of rural America.

The upcoming election offers rural Americans an important opportunity to make our voices heard and to ensure that our little green and gold sections of this nation are represented to the fullest extent possible. Like never before, the eyes of the nation are indeed on us, as candidates target rural voters. Political scientists predict that the presidential election could come down to a paper-thin margin in as many as 20 states that are either in the “battleground” or “leaning slightly” categories.

What’s At Stake?

In addition to the Office of the President, this year we will help elect 11 state governors, 34 seats in the U.S. Senate and, of course, the entire House of Representatives. In many of those contests, the rural vote is the key.

Even political strategists, who in the past have been too eager to write-off rural America as “sparsely populated,” have taken notice this time around. It could be that they have finally recognized what we might lack in numbers, we more than make up in our higher levels of political participation.

Technically speaking, the rural vote added up to about one-fourth (23 percent) of the electorate in the last presidential election. As a subset of rural voters, I am confident that Farm Bureau members, who, anecdotally, tend to be more politically active community members, do even better than that. We know our votes have made a difference.

Why We Care

The reason for our high level of political activity is simple. We are independent business families and we have a lot at stake. While we produce food, fiber and fuel for our nation, we also take care of her land, forests and streams. Due to our complicated relationship of dependence and conservancy with our nation’s land and natural resources, we also are more likely to feel the not-so-invisible hand of government.

The people we elect this November to lead our nation will ultimately determine where government interaction with farm and ranch families falls on the spectrum of cooperation and understanding. Who we choose will help determine how taxing our immediate future might be, how widely we might be able to sell our goods in foreign markets and how successful our next farm program will be in helping us smooth out the occasional economic valley.

Priming The Pump

It really is as simple as that. I am confident you will continue to make sure your voices are heard and your votes are counted. At the American Farm Bureau, we are priming the pump. During the party conventions, we will be pushing your views for inclusion in both major parties’ platforms. Later this fall, we will publish presidential candidates’ responses to questions related to agriculture and rural America. We will do what we can to ensure you are able to make informed decisions. Your vote will help make rural America a force to be reckoned with.

So, the next time you see a candidate for political office scrambling to conjure up some heartland imagery – by eating barbecue, shooting shotguns, shucking sweetcorn, or milking cows – don’t be too surprised. It is election season and, at least for this year, rural Americans like you hold the keys to the crossroad gates.