As November’s election nears, U.S. presidential candidates are criss-crossing the country to woo rural America, particularly Ohio.
Often ignored, we now find ourselves in a political tug-of-war for our ballots. Vote this way! No, this way!
It’s rather flattering until you read this from the New York Daily News last month: “A handful of hicks in the sticks are going to tell New Yorkers who their next President is.”
So be it.
A mid-June survey of voters in the rural battleground, commissioned by the Center for Rural Strategies, found George W. Bush leading Democrat John Kerry by a slim 9 points (51 percent to 42 percent). That’s a tighter race than the 15-point lead Bush had over Kerry at the beginning of the year.
“Rural voters, especially rural voters in critical battleground states, will determine the outcome of the presidential election in 2004,” said Republican analyst Bill Greener.
Our swing votes are hard to corral because rural Americans can’t be pigeonholed. Some rural areas on urban fringes are booming, other rural areas have lured retirees, and still others are dying for lack of jobs and farming income.
We face different types of challenges. We’re patriotic and independent, yet we feel removed from the whole darn political process.
My personal platform concerns boil down to three issues: the economy, taxes and the war in Iraq. Throw in health care and education for good measure.
Tell me how you’ll foster economic and community development in the long run, not just a flurry of financial incentives to bolster new businesses. Tell me how you’ll deal with the burgeoning federal deficit without increasing taxes. Tell me what we’ve learned from dealing with Iraq and how we can get our foreign policy act together in the Middle East.
While you’re at it, tell me how you’d wrap your arms around a hefty health care issue and how we can improve public education, the bedrock of America’s future.
Rural American has never been about the abstract, so give it to me in plain English. As my teens hear over and over, “Be more specific.”
Rural America lags behind the rest of the nation in employment, access to health care and per capita income, according to Niel Ritchie, executive director of the League of Rural Voters.
And from 1994 through 2001, the federal government spent more than two times (and up to five times) as much per capita on metropolitan community development as it did on rural community development.
If ever we wanted to grab the attention of public officials, the time is now.
Whoever listens will get our vote.
(Editor Susan Crowell can be reached at 1-800-837-3419 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)