With Iowa State Fair Ahead, 2020 Democrats Pitch to Rural America

August 8, 2019by Niels Lesniewski
Democratic presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar speaks at the "2019 We The People Membership Forum" on April 1, 2019, in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

WASHINGTON — As Democratic presidential hopefuls get ready to visit the soapbox at the Iowa State Fair, they’re announcing big plans for investments in rural America.

Three senators who are seeking the Democratic nomination for president in 2020 became the latest of the candidates with plans that they hope will appeal to rural Iowa caucusgoers. That includes proposals from two members of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee: Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

Among Gillibrand’s proposals is expanded crop insurance for farmers who are attempting to innovate, particularly when it comes to conservation, and thus may face increased risks. Likewise, Klobuchar wants to expand the value of crop insurance and other supports.

“Senator Klobuchar also supports improving and expanding commodity support and federal crop insurance programs and increasing the average premium subsidy for crop insurance,” her campaign proposal said.

The proposals go well beyond traditional farm programs. Gillibrand, Klobuchar and Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren are all proposing new investments in rural health care and improving access to broadband internet.

Klobuchar’s campaign has made “a commitment to connect every household in America to the internet by 2022,” and Warren wants a new “public option” for broadband service.

Warren wants federal preemption of state laws that may limit the ability of municipal governments to run their own broadband networks for their businesses and residents.

“I will make sure every home in America has a fiber broadband connection at a price families can afford. That means publicly owned and operated networks — and no giant ISPs running away with taxpayer dollars,” Warren said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Gillibrand is proposing a $60 billion investment in rural broadband.

“I will get the job done working with private providers, states, rural electric cooperatives, broadband cooperatives, and community broadband networks,” the New York Democrat said. “This investment will be directed by detailed, accurate broadband service maps that reflect actual service availability.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden unveiled a rural America proposal on July 16 that included $20 billion for rural broadband infrastructure and a pledge to undo the tariff policies of President Donald Trump.

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, another of the many Democratic presidential candidates, has legislation with fellow Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana that would impose a moratorium on mergers in the agriculture and food sector.

As with many of his colleagues, Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado is promoting efforts to improve health case access in rural America as part of his pitch to Iowa voters. Bennet is also among the presidential hopefuls who hold seats on the Agriculture Committee.

In May, Warren said that if elected she would seek to enhance Justice Department antitrust enforcement of vertically integrated agriculture businesses that can pinch family farmers. That announcement and some others like it came at an earlier candidate forum in Iowa.

“Both corporate America and leaders in Washington have turned their backs on the people living in our rural communities and prioritized the interests of giant companies and Wall Street instead,” Warren said in a statement Wednesday. “Rural communities are losing access to quality health care. Climate change – from more severe floods to extreme heat – is changing the rural way of life. And farmers are forced to compete with giant agribusinesses on an uneven playing field.”

Asked Wednesday about the various proposals for rural America from Democrats, Iowa’s senior senator, Republican Charles E. Grassley, highlighted a question that he said Democrats have avoided answering.

With the Senate in August recess, the Finance chairman has been continuing his annual tour of all 99 counties. He told reporters that trade is important to Iowa farmers, but that he has not heard any of the candidates say they support the proposed United States-Mexico-Canada pact that would replace the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“We’ve got 20 some candidates roaming through Iowa and I haven’t read a single press release put out in support of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement. I would expect Iowa farmers at least, but even (auto industry) workers because it’s so good for domestic content manufacturing of equipment that UAW workers put together, that they would all be asking, ‘When are you going to talk about the USMCA? Tell me whether or not you’re going to vote for it,’” Grassley said, referring to provisions in the trade pact that would increase the North American content in cars and vehicle parts from 62.5% to 75%.

Candidates may face questions about the Trump administration’s proposed updated trade pact as they visit the Iowa State Fair soapbox starting Thursday afternoon, when the Des Moines Register plans to welcome Biden and Gov. Steve Bullock, D-Mont.

Current senators will dominate the agenda on Saturday, and 2020 hopefuls from all different backgrounds will be crisscrossing the state in the coming week. Klobuchar has a 20-county tour scheduled, which kicked off Wednesday morning in Ankeny, while Warren will be setting out in a Winnebago.

The timing of all the new proposals from Democrats should come as no surprise, and there will surely be more announcements before the end of the week as the 2020 contest will be almost entirely focused on the Hawkeye State over the next several days.

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Ellyn Ferguson contributed to this report.

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