With Iowa State Fair ahead, 2020 Democrats pitch to rural America

A trio of presidential hopefuls rolled out new plans Wednesday

Presidential candidates will be visiting the Iowa State Fair this week, along with the famous butter cow. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Presidential candidates will be visiting the Iowa State Fair this week, along with the famous butter cow. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted August 7, 2019 at 11:45am

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 seeking the 2020 Democratic nomination for president are the latest candidates with plans they hope will appeal to rural Iowa caucusgoers. Those include 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.

“Sen. Klobuchar also supports improving and expanding commodity support and federal crop insurance programs and increasing the average premium subsidy for crop insurance,” the Minnesota Democrat’s campaign proposal said.

The proposals go well beyond traditional farm programs. Gillibrand, Klobuchar and Massachusetts 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 proposes 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,” the Massachusetts Democrat 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,” she said. “This investment will be directed by detailed, accurate broadband service maps that reflect actual service availability.”

Another recurring theme is Democrats wanting stronger action to limit consolidation in big agribusiness. This has been a topic of interest among 2020 White House hopefuls throughout the campaign cycle — and even before.

Former Vice President Joe Biden unveiled a rural America proposal last month 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 Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester that would impose a moratorium on mergers in the agriculture and food sector.

As with many of his colleagues, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, a presidential hopeful with a seat on the Agriculture Committee, is promoting efforts to improve health case access in rural America as part of his pitch to Iowa voters. 

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 a few 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, pointed to a question he said Democrats have avoided answering.

With the Senate in August recess, Grassley has been continuing his annual tour of all 99 counties. The Senate Finance chairman 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.

“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-manufactured content in cars and vehicle parts from 62.5 percent to 75 percent.

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 Montana Gov. Steve Bullock.

Senators will dominate the agenda on Saturday as 2020 hopefuls from all different backgrounds crisscross 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 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, for now, becomes almost entirely focused on the Hawkeye State.

Ellyn Ferguson contributed to this report.