From the dairy farms of Pennsylvania and New York to the commodity growers in the Midwest and the produce fields of California’s Central Valley, the farm-country vote is very much in play as the midterms approach. In two new stories, FERN takes a closer look at a handful of contests that will determine whether Democratic challengers can flip the farmers who helped elect Donald Trump.
In Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, first-time candidate Jess King is within single digits of incumbent Rep. Lloyd Smucker. King’s campaign, built on door-to-door visits and a lot of public events, is winning converts among the dairy farmers struggling with low prices and a growing sense that the Republicans they’ve always supported are more about Big Ag than small farmers, writes Leah Douglas.
Meanwhile, Brian Barth follows up on his earlier look at J.D. Scholten’s effort to unseat Rep. Steve King in Iowa, with a survey of eight close races in farm country, how the candidates’ strategies are playing out and what’s at stake with trade, immigration, SNAP, the farm bill, water rights, and ethanol.
It won’t be easy for Democrats to win in these districts that went hard for Trump, but John Norris, a veteran political operative and a farm policy expert from Iowa, sees room for a finely tuned message that moves beyond Trump’s trade war.
“Democratic candidates may find a stone-faced reception among conservative farmers,” writes Barth, “but Norris argues that rural communities — which goes way beyond farmers — are quite receptive to broader progressive themes around healthcare, education, and the social safety net. They may also respond to a vision for rural America that will draw people back to small towns, revitalizing the rural economy in the process — ideas that counter long-term trends and have little to do with a trade war and tariffs.”
“It’s about getting rural folks to recognize that they’re not going to repopulate with corn and soybean producers,” Norris says, “but they might be able to by creating more opportunities for alternative agriculture. There is a whole generation of people that are looking to reconnect with the soil.”