Obama improved Democratic presence in rural areas

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Finally after months of robo calls and campaign commercials, the election is finally behind us. In the 2004 election the rural vote attributed greatly to the success of President George W. Bush's second term. According to the Center for Rural Strategies, President-elect Barack Obama won the election with the city vote, but he also cut the Democratic deficit by half in the rural counties of battleground states.  In 2004, Senator John Kerry lost the rural vote in battleground states by 15 points; Obama lost the rural vote in battleground states by only 7 percentage points. 

Nationally, Obama was able to win 43% of the rural vote. (This is the actual vote from counties the U.S. Census designates as "non metro.") In 2004, John Kerry won 39.8% of the vote from these same counties.

Obama won 40.7% of the exurban vote. (These are metro counties with substantial numbers of rural residents.) In these same counties four years ago, John Kerry won 38.1% of the vote.

There were ten states that changed from Republican in '04 to Democratic in 2008, or are now too close to call. They are Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Indiana, Missouri, North Carolina, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia. Obama won the urban vote in all of these states by wide margins.

Among the ten change-of-allegiance states, he won the rural vote in only New Mexico and Iowa -- but he increased the Democratic Party's share of the rural vote in all ten states. In Indiana, Obama won 43% of the rural vote, up more than 11 percentage points from 2004. In Florida, the Democrats' take of the rural vote didn't change at all.

In 8 of the ten states that flipped (or are too close to call), rural voters shifted Democratic at rates higher than the national average.

The Obama campaign strategically plucked votes out of rural states. The Democrat was particularly good at pulling votes from rural counties with colleges or universities.

Moving forward

Sen. John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate, liked to intersperse his catch-phrase, "My Friends," into his speeches. Obama was known for saying, "Look," to introduce a thought. Now, farmers and others will look at how each and every one of Obama's actions could affect their productivity and profitability.

Obama's support for a farm safety net and biofuel production incentives bodes well for farmers. Working with the new Congress, comprehensive immigration reform may have a better chance of passing, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

On international trade, climate change and other regulatory issues, agriculture will have to make a strong case for policies that help farmers sell more of their products abroad and don't eat away at their profitability, the Farm Bureau continued.

Democrats now hold larger majorities in the House and Senate. This can be good and bad. It eases the deadlock that has so often prevented Congress from getting things done, such as immigration reform. But this shift also will make it easier for the administration and Democrats in Congress to get their legislative initiatives passed without having to compromise with Republicans. In the Senate, at least, Democrats will be just shy of a filibuster-proof super-majority, and they will still need to reach across the aisle.

Many of the Senate seats Democrats picked up in 2006 were in rural areas. Mark Maslyn, executive director of public policy at AFBF, said as a result, the influence of the Blue Dog Democrats -- the group known to settle more in the middle on issues -- grew with the 2006 election.

Maslyn expects that to continue. "It's important that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer realize their own majorities are helped from Democrats in rural areas."


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