[imgcontainer right] [img:west_texas_wildfires_helo_650x366.jpeg] The wildfires are back. Already, more than 24,000 acres have burned in the Davis Mountains near the Texas/New Mexico border. [/imgcontainer]

Will President Obama do as well in rural America as he did in 2008?

Obama outperformed John Kerry’s rural totals from 2004 and that helped him win states like Colorado and Iowa, according to Tom Curry, a national affairs writer for MSNBC. But what about 2012?

Curry sees trouble. He writes: 

The economy seems likely to be the driving factor just as much for rural voters on Election Day as for those in bigger cities, like Las Vegas or Denver. And this will make Obama’s 2008 success in wooing rural voters harder to replicate this year.

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics the average unemployment rate in smaller counties – those with less than the average size labor force – is 8.7 percent, compared to the national average of 8.2 percent.

About 30 percent of the nation’s more than 3,000 counties still have an unemployment rate of 10 percent or higher and 162 of those are smaller rural counties in states such as North Carolina, Wisconsin, Michigan, Colorado, and Ohio which are likely to be hotly contested this fall.

Fifty of the highest unemployment, rural counties are in North Carolina. Obama carried 15 of those North Carolina counties in 2008 and came within a whisker of carrying four more of them.

• TransCanada will reapply for a federal permit for its Keystone XL pipeline as early as Friday, according to the Washington Post

The controversial pipeline will carry tar sands oil from Alberta to the Gulf Coast. It’s been opposed by environmentalists (who say using the carbon-rich tar sands will increase global warming) and Nebraska ranchers (who fear spills from the pipeline could taint the Ogallala Aquifer). In January, the Obama administration denied TransCanada’s first permit request.

TransCanada has since announced a new route through Nebraska that would steer clear of the sensitive Sand Hills region, although state opponents say the new route could still affect groundwater supplies.

Keystone has become embroiled in presidential politics. Republican Mitt Romney has promised to build the pipeline.

• It used to be that we’d all receive notices from the Social Security Administration every year or so showing what our benefits would be when we retired. The agency stopped providing that service last year. 

The mailings cost $70 million a year, but they provided invaluable information to every American. Now, the SSA is providing that same information online. Go to www.ssa.gov and you can create a secure account to see what benefits you have accrued.

• The USDA has tracked down one offspring of the cow found to have mad cow disease. The animal was euthanized and tests later found that there was no sign of bovine spongiform encephalopathy. 

• A young Republican state legislator in Missouri — and a cattle raiser — has announced that he is gay and has asked GOP leaders to withdraw a bill that would limit discussion of sexual orientation in public schools. 

Rep. Zachary Wyatt is 27 years old, an Air Force veteran and a cattle farmer in the northern Missouri town of Novinger. He joined other legislators (Democrat and Republican) in opposing a proposed law that would prohibit teaching or extracurricular activities that discuss sexual orientation. 

“I will not lie to myself anymore about my own sexuality,” Wyatt said during a news conference at the state Capitol. “I am still the same person that I was when I woke up this morning and I will be the same person when I go to bed tonight. Today I ask you to stand with me as a proud Republican, a proud veteran and a proud gay man who wants to protect all kids addressing bullying in our schools.”

Wyatt is not running for re-election. He is planning on moving to Hawaii to study marine biology. 

Here’s an update on the Rep. Steve King (R) vs. Christie Vilsack (D) race in Iowa. 

• Sen. Charles Grassley, the Iowa Republican, tells DTN’s Chris Clayton that delaying a vote on the farm bill is a bad idea. 

“If we don’t get this done by the Aug. 5 break, then it’s not going to get done until September, then of course you get down to November and December,” Grassley said.

“I think as I have already indicated if you wait until November and December it’s going to be tough on all farmers. That’s when you are making your decision on what you are going to do next year,” Grassley said.

• Could be a major climate shift, from La Nina conditions to El Nino conditions. Here’s the article. The upshot is that we could have more rain the the U.S. Southwest, less in the Northwest. 

• A moratorium on post office closings is set to end on May 15. A group of U.S. Senators has asked the Postmaster General to extend the moratorium, but if he doesn’t, 233 offices could close soon after the middle of the month. 

Here is a list of the offices that are on the block. 

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