[imgcontainer right] [img:void%280%29.jpeg] [source]Joe Raedle/Getty[/source] Republican Presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, shakes hands during a stop for a sandwich at a WaWa Gas Station on June 16, 2012 in Quakertown, Pennsylvania. [/imgcontainer]

The presidential candidates took to the hay bale and barn door this last weekend, each trying to connect with rural voters that they have had trouble wooing in earlier elections.

AP reports that Republican Mitt Romney is on a tour of small towns in six swing states, telling people he planted alfalfa on his uncle’s farm as a teen. President Obama is stressing his Kansas roots and has released what he calls a blueprint for rural America.   

“Both campaigns expect Romney to win the majority of the voters in these reliably Republican places, but Obama’s team is trying to keep the margin as narrow as it was in 2008, when he lost rural voters by just 8 percentage points to John McCain,” AP reports. “Romney’s team, in turn, is looking to run up the score, perhaps as high as the 19 percentage point advantage that George W. Bush enjoyed among rural voters in his 2004 re-election bid.”

“Romney’s going to win the rurals. The question is by how much,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist who advised McCain’s rural outreach. “If Romney cannot boost rural turnout, he’s going to lose. If Mitt Romney’s going to win the White House, it will be the rural vote that pushes him over the top.”

Democrats have a problem in rural communities. “Democrats have for some time been challenged in how they communicate directly with rural America,” Patrick Gaspard, executive director of the Democratic National Committee, said recently.

Yet, then again, so did Romney in the Republican primaries where he consistently lost rural counties to all of his opponents. Scott Conroy at RealClearPolitics says this is why Romney is engaged in a tour of rural communities, complete with Deere farm equipment and bluegrass bands.  He’s called this tour “Every Town Counts.”

According to Conroy, Romney will have to “dominate” rural counties if he expects to win in the fall. U.S. News and World Report comes to the same conclusion, saying, “If Romney succeeds, it could well be rural America that pushes him over the top and into the White House.” 

NPR aired a segment about how two clearly urban candidates (“city slickers,” says Ari Shapiro) are trying to find a way to fit with rural voters. 

• Youth suicide is declining overall, but the rate of youth suicide in rural areas has remained steady. A Temple University professor who specializes in suicide prevention suggests that rural parents talk more about guns.

Girls attempt suicide four times more often than boys, but boys die from suicide four times as often as girls — largely because they use guns, a particularly lethal method of suicide. 

“In rural areas, we don’t need to educate parents about guns. Everyone knows how they work. Instead we need to remind families they have guns and they are lethal,” said Jonathan Singer, an assistant professor of social work. “The conversation needs to focus on keeping guns secure and limiting access to guns. Clinicians need to say, ‘Your son could use one of your guns to kill himself.’”

• A study of miners working at surface coal mines has found that a surprising number had signs of black lung disease, the Louisville Courier-Journal reports

Black lung is a condition caused by inhaling coal dust. Breathing can become extremely difficult and black lung can kill its victims. 

It’s been thought that black lung was primarily a disease that affects underground miners, not those who work on the surface. But when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention checked over 2,000 surface miners, the agency found that about 2 percent potentially had the deadly disease. 

“The numbers are higher than what you’d expect. We would expect it to be essentially zero,” said CDC researcher Cara Halldin, an epidemic intelligence service officer. “This is a workforce that has previously been thought to not have the disease or not have much disease.”

Most of those with black lung worked on surface mines in Central Appalachia. In Kentucky, nearly 6 percent of miners tested had signs of black lung.

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