Presidential candidates 'don't have understanding of rural America'

ST. PAUL-The two major presidential candidates appear to agree on something.Hillary Clinton: "America's rural communities lie at the heart of what makes this country great."Donald Trump: "Growing our farm sector and supporting our nation's farmer...

Presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton during their first presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., on Sept. 26, 2016. (Reuters photo by Lucas Jackson)
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ST. PAUL-The two major presidential candidates appear to agree on something.

Hillary Clinton: "America's rural communities lie at the heart of what makes this country great."

Donald Trump: "Growing our farm sector and supporting our nation's farmers are absolutely critical steps to making America great again."

The two short quotes from Democrat Clinton and Republican Trump are more than most Americans hear about rural issues in the campaign, so the two apparently agree that rural issues are not critical enough to their chances on Nov. 8 to talk about them much.

"They don't have an understanding of the real rural America and the concerns that people have," Republican Ed Schafer said of the Clinton camp.


And what about Trump, known for his casinos, hotels and other facilities he has built in metropolitan areas? "His view of rural America is a place you can put a golf course," said Schafer, a former North Dakota governor and U.S. agriculture secretary under President George W. Bush.

The candidates seldom talk about issues such as farm policy and mining. And while they do discuss energy, often produced in rural America, it is more of a national discussion than how rural residents may be affected.

Even so, information provided by campaigns, a number of interviews with political observers and examination of the few rural-oriented surveys the two campaigns completed produced information about how each would affect people who live outside the country's cities.

The bottom line? No surprise. Clinton mostly would take typical Democratic actions and Trump would follow Republican principles, even though he does not precisely fit into the GOP mold.

Clinton, with decades of political experience, offers more detailed information about what she would do while Trump, making his first run for public office, offers more generalities.

Dee Davis of the Kentucky-based Center for Rural Strategies said that while Trump is getting rural support, Clinton is issuing position papers.

"The irony of this election is Clinton, who is not going to do well in rural areas, is working overtime to create policy and plans to reinvigorate small towns," he said. "On the other side, Trump, who is going to do very well in rural America is embracing policies that have been at the center of eliminating rural jobs."

Professor Cindy Rugeley of the University of Minnesota Duluth said that rural issues have come up "only because Donald Trump has made such a focus on rural voters."


Davis said that Trump needs rural votes to win.

"The strategy depends on great performances in these rural areas, mostly white, as a way to counterbalance metropolitan voting," Davis said, emphasizing that Trump is looking for big wins in Appalachia and the rural Midwest.

Even some traditionally Democratic rural areas, such as Minnesota's Iron Range, could favor Trump, Rugeley said. "You see the signs out there. You often see them next to a sign that says, 'I support mining.'"

"So is Minnesota going to go Republican?" Rugeley asked. "Probably not."

The differences between the two are predictable.

Trump backs fewer restrictions on mining and oil drilling. Clinton favors more environmental controls, although she says she would like to eliminate some federal red tape.

Clinton would ease restrictions on immigrants and give those in the country illegally a path to citizenship. Trump calls for strict restrictions and building a wall to keep out Mexican immigrants, which could affect farmers and agri-businesses looking for workers.

Trump rejects requirements to label product that contain genetically modified organisms while Clinton says she sees the need for a national labeling solution.


Despite differences, rural Americans do not seem to be looking at specific issues to pick their favorite candidate. And for the most part that is the Republican candidate, whoever it may be.

"I just think that Republicans do better," Rugeley said. "It is not so much Trump."

Steve Kelley, a professor and senior fellow at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs, said that even strong rural issues such as the need to spread high-speed Internet probably will not affect the election in rural America.

"My perception of the campaigns is that both candidates are focused on the emotions of the supporters and of the people who are still undecided so when Secretary Clinton makes an issue of comments about women, it is not really about policy, it is about people's emotional reaction about the candidates," said Kelley, a former Democratic Minnesota state senator. "Mr. Trump is doing the same thing."

A Reuters-Ipsos poll showed that among voters who live outside of urban areas, Trump led with 41 percent, compared to Clinton's 28 percent. In urban areas, meanwhile, Clinton topped Trump 51-28. The poll mirrors others that look at rural voters.

Iowa and Wisconsin are nearby states that are considered close and have attracted Trump and Clinton attention. But North Dakota and South Dakota are expected to go Trump.

Regardless of who wins the presidency, Schafer said, the country will be fine.

"We do have a system of those checks and balances that even with the president on the figure of the football, the nuclear launch codes, it does not happen alone..." the former governor and Cabinet secretary said. "The reality is, we are going to survive both of them. We have a great system. The brilliance of our forefathers that no one person or one branch of government has total control or total power.

"We are not going to wreck our country."

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