Issues in Rural America Are Not Red or Blue

Forgotten rural America may cast deciding votes in the presidential race.

Rural America has been the forgotten nation, contend two public policy analysts offering their views at Monday's conference of North American Agricultural Journalists. But Bill Greener and Barbara Leach think that's going to change come this fall's Presidential election.

"The Republican and Democratic parties are about attaching themselves to someone," explains Greener, an Arlington, Va., pollster and political consultant. "Politicos take the easy bait. The 2008 election results will come down to which party does a better job resonating with voters on economic and quality of life issues."

It's no coincidence that black and Hispanic America issues get coverage, he notes. "The media speaks of coast to coast poll results. That means from Philadelphia to New York City to Boston to, maybe Minneapolis, to Seattle, to L.A., and nothing in between."

But when the counting's done . . .

When Presidential race dust settles, it'll be very close, predicts Greener. "It'll come down to the wire, with Iowa, New Mexico, Ohio and Wisconsin being key states. Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Missouri come in as second-tier critical states."

Barbara Leach, president and founder of My Rural America, agrees that rural voters will decide this presidential election. Rural voters are worried about what she calls "kitchen table issues" — the war and the rural economic crisis — the worries that send their kids away (and subsequently their grandchildren) from home. "But kitchen table issues don't get heard in Washington."

She contends key issues are basic education and health care, and notes that rural Americans sacrifice disproportionately on health care and education. "Some 20% of America's poor children live in rural America. Rural schools serve over 40% of our nation's students, but receive only 22% of federal education funding. These are serious issues," says Leach.

Currently, the energy level for change is much higher on the Democratic side, adds Greener. "Bringing new and younger people to the party is the thing that puts you over the top."

Who's done the best job of that so far? "They haven't come in for Hillary," he observes. "Republicans have done a bad job connecting with rural Americans, too."

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