Hiding the Ball

Posted: October 17, 2019 | By: John Altendorf Tagged: Blog

If you try campaigning in Iowa and avoid agriculture policy, your campaign is not going to last long. Both Republicans and Democrats must focus on agriculture and frame the message appropriately to win over rural Iowa.

Vice President Mike Pence landed Air Force Two in an Iowa soybean field Wednesday and flexed the muscle of incumbency. He emerged from a tunnel of round hay bales and spoke about the track record the Trump administration has relied on to communicate to rural Iowa. The passage of the 15 percent ethanol standard and the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) were two dominating talking points. Pence emphasized the commitment the Trump administration has to American farmers.

On the other side of the aisle, presidential candidate and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar visited a packed house in West Des Moines last week and displayed a separation from Pence’s message of full Republican support for Iowa agriculture. Klobuchar hammered Trump for his habitual use of tariffs as leverage in negotiations and reported that Iowa farmers are fed up with the effects tariffs have had on their business.

Pence’s main goal for his Iowa visit was to “turn up the heat” on Democrats in Congress and get Nancy Pelosi to bring the USMCA trade deal to the floor for a vote. He called on the audience to contact their Democratic member of Congress and tell them that USMCA is needed in Iowa now. Pence laid out the evidence through jobs data and economic activity statistics correlating free trade with positive effects for rural America. Furthermore, Pence called on Iowans to tell the Democratic presidential candidates touring the state that USMCA is a priority. Pence noted no Democratic presidential candidate has publicly supported the trade agreement.

Both parties are pushing opposing messages to farmers. Klobuchar says Trump is hurting farmers through his tariffs and Pence affirms that it is the Democrats’ failure to move USMCA forward that is holding the American farmer back. President Trump has the opportunity to keep speaking to rural Iowa if USMCA is passed and many Democrats do not want to give him that win. The president is also looking for wins elsewhere for farmers, including a newly drafted trade agreement with Japan and ongoing negotiations with China.

A staffer attending the rally said he does not see any Democrat in the current field as formidable to the president, but he enjoys watching them continue to engage each other in infighting and their movement to the left. The individual said the perceived front runner is constantly evolving, but he sees three lanes coming out of Iowa and only one candidate able to be viable in each of the respective lanes. The first lane will be occupied by a far-left progressive such as Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders, the second lane will be occupied by the candidate closest to a moderate such as Joe Biden, and the third lane will be held by a young, fresh face such as Pete Buttigieg.