Barack Obama in Adel, Iowa

In a bit of policy-making on the fly, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama is piecing together a “rural agenda” for his campaign in the Democratic presidential primary. The senator is on a “listening tour” of small towns , and on his journey he’s talking about what will eventually become his rural platform.

Sen. Barack Obama talks about rural policy in Adel, Iowa in late July.

Obama plans a “rural summit” for mid-month in Iowa. In the meantime, the senator is making a point to talk about rural America as something distinct from the cities. And as he travels, we can see shadows of the Obama plan for the country outside urban America:

1. One of the great things about presidential campaigns is that they begin in a very specific place: Iowa. Candidates have to deal with flesh and blood and walk on cracked sidewalks. The bad part of a national campaign so dependent on a state is that platforms are tailored for Iowa.

Obama named three people who would be on his “rural advisory committee.” They are from Iowa, Iowa and Iowa:

“¢ Mike Dunn, of Keokuk, is the former Under Secretary of Agriculture for Marketing and Regulatory Programs during the Clinton administration.
“¢ Gary Lamb, of Chelsea, has farmed for 55 years and served as president of the Iowa Farmers Union, chairman of the Iowa State Committee of the Farm Service Agency and agricultural liaison for Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.
“¢ Neil Hamilton, of Waukee, is director of the Agricultural Law Center at Drake University. In 2000, he was appointed by Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack as chairman of the Iowa Food Policy Council.

Farming is different, we presume, in Louisiana — and in Appalachia, the issues have nothing to do with farming at all. No matter. The election is in Iowa, so that’s where Obama will develop his rural platform. “In the coming weeks, members of my rural policy committee will be traveling the state to hear your ideas and insights as we develop our policies on the issues affecting rural America,” Obama said, after naming his advisors.

2. Obama is following Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin on the farm bill.

The farm bill passed the House last week. Iowa’s Harkin, chair of the Senate Ag Committee, has said he expects to increase spending on conservation. Obama says he agrees with Harkin that there should be more “emphasis on nutrition.”

3. Obama likes ethanol.

4. Obama would put limits on farm subsidies.

“Rather than investing in rural opportunity, our government is handing out subsidies to corporate mega-farms,” Obama said last week in Adel, Iowa. “Over the past decade, our government has handed out $1.3 billion in federal farm money to people who aren’t even farmers. We’ve even got farm money going to Fortune 500 companies.”

5. Obama supports expanding broadband Internet in rural areas.

6. Obama said community colleges don’t receive enough financial support.

7. Obama acknowledges that Democrats have trouble collecting votes in rural areas.

“Obviously, rural communities and agricultural regions often times are politically more conservative, but part of that has to do with positions on social issues more than it has to do with economic issues,” Obama said to the Associated Press. “I think Democrats have come to understand that on issues of faith, on respecting the rights of sportsmen and hunters … we haven’t always listened as much as we should have. We’re getting, I think, a much better sense of what’s required and what’s important to win over rural America.”

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