Is 2012 Election Too Rural?
Four years ago the New York Times proclaimed that the way we elected presidents was entirely too rural.
It was a big problem, this rural business, the Times said on its editorial page. The candidates were spending too much time talking “about the issues close to the heart of rural America,” the paper announced in its lead editorial, because the candidates were spending too much time in rural states, such as Iowa and New Hampshire.
“It’s not a new problem,” the Times wrote. “For more than a generation, presidential aspirants have mostly resisted acknowledging the importance of the cities’ well being. Blame the front-loading of the primary season with rural states, or electoral and legislative systems that give disproportionate weight to sparsely populated states.” As a result, the candidates “fell all over themselves to praise ethanol in Iowa …. (but) urban issues have gotten scant attention in this campaign.” It was all so “shortsighted.”
Since this is “not a new problem,” according to the Times, we’d expect to see this same too-much-rural phenomenon again in 2012. Did we?
Well, no. The first two states were won by Mitt Romney, the most urban in the passel of Republicans running. The most rural of the candidates, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, was a dramatic and spectacular bust.
If there was a great discussion of rural issues in either New Hampshire or Iowa, we missed it. We’ve scanned the front-runners’ web sites. They all have some “issues” pages, but none have anything devoted to rural America.
Mitt Romney has a 160-page platform. There is no mention of “land,” “ethanol,” “agriculture” or “rural.”
Newt Gingrich has a plank on the Second Amendment, but his energy policy platform makes no mention of ethanol. He has nothing on his site about farming or agriculture. He has written more about space exploration than anything having to do with rural America.
Rick Santorum’s issue page is similar to Gingrich’s, minus the space exploration stuff. Santorum has a plank on the Second Amendment, but not rural America.
Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania, has been the only candidate we’ve heard mention rural communities in the Republican debates — but those comments concerned rural manufacturing not ethanol or farm policy. In the December 11 Republican debate, Santorum said that diminished employment in manufacturing “hurts disproportionately small town and rural America.”
Ron Paul, the Texas congressman, opposes both ethanol subsidies and farm payments. He’d get rid of both. “Farm subsidies should be phased out,” the Paul campaign said in its survey response. “They are unconstitutional, and we can simply no longer afford them.”
Did having Iowa first in the lineup turn every Republican into an ethanol booster? Not hardly.
Bloomberg’s Alan Bjerga and Mario Parker wrote, “Allegiance to ethanol, once required for political success in rural states, has faded in importance as some candidates skeptical about biofuel subsidies fared better than supporters in the Iowa caucuses.”
“Staunch ethanol opponent Ron Paul took second in rural counties.Rick Santorum, who won the vote in farm country, relied on support from religious conservatives -- although support for biofuels helped.Mitt Romney, who has criticized long-term government subsidies for the fuel, carried the entire state. Newt Gingrich consulted for an industry group and had the highest rating on farm policy from the Iowa Corn Growers Association. He took fourth.”
Harvest Public Media’s Kathleen Masterson found in the days just before the Iowa caucuses that “something seems to be missing” in the campaign. That something was agriculture.
“Considering that this region is known for its agriculture industry, candidates have been fairly silent on farm, food and fuel issues,” Masterson wrote. “And that's even with a looming farm bill yet to be written and federal ethanol supports set to expire in several weeks.”
In other words, what always happens, according to the Times, didn’t happen. The early contests in Iowa and New Hampshire didn’t skew the debate to rural issues. We don’t know any more about what the candidates think about rural policy now than before the campaign began.
Of course, we don’t know what their urban policies are either. But don’t blame that on rural America. Blame that on a political system that has grown so ideologically fractious that real solutions for rural or urban America aren’t a necessary part of anybody’s presidential campaign.