Rural Reps.: Are They Turning to Obama?

boucher button thumbJohn Edwards and Mitt Romney picked up the early endorsements from U.S. congressional representatives in the most rural districts, but since the first primaries, rural leaders are leaning in new directions.

Rick Boucher button
Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA) pressed the endorsement button Jan. 21, for Barack Obama (here, he's lighting up a new technology center in Wise County with company and state officials).
Photo: Gotricities

Rep Rick Boucher (D-VA) endorsed Barack Obama on Monday. “I represent a rural district of 27 counties and cities in southwestern Virginia," Boucher announced. "George Bush received 60 percent of the vote in my district in 2004. I believe Senator Obama can carry it in 2008, and no other Democratic candidate can.”

The Daily Yonder has checked into whether — and where — representatives from other rural U.S. Congressional districts have cast their support in the 2008 presidential primaries. Of the 25 most rural districts (using this site, based on data from the 2000 Census and USDA), we found that while early endorsements went to Mitt Romney on the Republican side and John Edwards among the Democrats, there seem to be changes afoot. U.S. representatives who've held off until 2008 to announce their endorsements have been keeping an eye on voters in the early caucuses and primaries. Some, like Virginia's Boucher, are breaking the pattern.

Last Thursday, Vermont's lone representative Peter Welch (an Independent) joined Sen. Patrick Leahy in endorsing Obama as well.

Prior to last week, all the Democratic U.S. Representatives from these most-rural districts who had made endorsements had come out for Edwards. Mike Michaud of Maine, for example, announced his support in mid-October: "John Edwards has the courage to tackle problems that other politicians simply ignore, like ending poverty in America and making trade work for working Americans," said Michaud. "He is the only candidate who has offered real plans to help struggling rural communities and to provide healthcare coverage for the 45 million uninsured Americans." Michaud, who represents all but the southernmost edge of Maine, called Edwards, "the best chance Democrats have at taking back the White House." That was before Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada.

Romney and Dave Camp

Mitt Romney received the endorsement of U.S. Congressman Dave Camp (right) last year. Camp represents Michigan's 4th, one of the most rural districts in the nation.
Photo: Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney raked up a heap of endorsements almost a year ago, including support from representatives in these most-rural districts. Last February, the former Massachusetts governor announced his Congressional Whip Team, with representatives from five of the 25 most rural districts: Hal Rogers and Ed Whitfield of Kentucky, Robert Aderholt of Alabama, Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania, and Dave Camp of Michigan. Virginia Foxx, who represents northwestern North Carolina, also endorsed Romney in December.

A few other rural congressmen have leaned toward candidates but refrained from official endorsements. Nathan Deal (R-GA) told the Gainesville Times, "I was one of those who was hanging back and hoping that Fred Thompson might be the guy that rode in on the white horse. Fred has disappointed me from the standpoint of engaging in the issues at the level I thought he needed to do." Deal has said he also likes former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, but disagrees with him on immigration.

The only other endorsements among these 25 most rural district reps to date have been Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO), who supports Rudy Giuliani, and Mississippi Rep. Chip Pickering, for John McCain.

Here's a full list of the 25 most rural Congressional districts and their office holders' endorsements thus far. (Mississippi's 1st District seat has been vacant since last month, when Rep. Roger Wicker was appointed to fill out Trent Lott's term in the Senate; Lott resigned from office in December.)

1 Harold Rogers KY-5 R 79% Romney
2 Robert B. Aderholt AL-4 R 74% Romney
3 Michael H. Michaud ME-2 D 69% Edwards
4 Lincoln Davis TN-4 D 68% Uncommitted
5 Bart Stupak MI-1 D 67% Edwards
6 Collin C. Peterson MN-7 D 66% Uncommitted
7 Nathan Deal GA-9 R 66% Uncommitted
8 Rick Boucher VA-9 D 66% Obama
9 John M. McHugh NY-23 R 65% Uncommitted
10 Dan Boren OK-2 D 64% Uncommitted
11 Virgil H. Goode Jr. VA-5 R 64% Uncommited
12 Ed Whitfield KY-1 R 64% Romney
13 James L. Oberstar MN-8 D 63% Edwards
14 Peter Welch VT I 62% Obama
15 Nick J. Rahall II WV-3 D 62% Uncommitted
16 Vacant MS-1 R 62% Uncommitted
17 Jo Ann Emerson MO-8 R 60% Giuliani
18 Ike Skelton MO-4 D 60% Uncommitted
19 Charles "Chip" Pickering MS-3 R 60% McCain
20 Bill Shuster PA-9 R 60% Romney
21 Dave Camp MI-4 R 59% Romney
22 David R. Obey WI-7 D 58% Edwards
23 Virginia Foxx NC-5 R 57% Romney
24 Ron Kind WI-3 D 57% Uncommitted
25 Zack Space OH-18 D 57% Uncommitted