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Published March 29, 2011, 09:52 AM

Washington lawyer establishing ag committee for re-election campaign

SAN ANTONIO — Marshall Matz, a Washington attorney with South Dakota ties, has begun setting up a private sector agriculture committee to support President Obama’s re-election campaign.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Special to Agweek

SAN ANTONIO — Marshall Matz, a Washington attorney with South Dakota ties, has begun setting up a private sector agriculture committee to support President Obama’s re-election campaign.

Matz, who co-chaired the agriculture committee for Obama in 2008, sent an e-mail recently to farm and agribusiness leaders who supported Obama in the election, an attendee at the Democratic-leaning National Farmers Union convention told Agweek. Matz confirmed March 14 he had sent out the message to update his lists, and that he expects his committee to be coordinated with other Obama support committees, but that the campaign has not yet hired a coordinator.

“It is important to the country . . . and the world . . . that we re-elect President Obama,” Matz said in the e-mail. “He is particularly good for agriculture and understands that rural America makes a critical contribution to our economy and our national fabric.”

Recruiting members

The 2008 Obama agriculture committee was composed of 186 supporters in Washington and around the country. The National Farmers Union convention attendee, who described the 2008 effort as well organized, said that Matz faces a major recruitment drive because the Obama supporters who took jobs as political appointees cannot be part of the private sector effort in 2012.

That would include Dallas Tonsager, who co-chaired the committee with Matz in 2008 and now is the Department of Agriculture’s undersecretary for rural development, and the local activists who have been appointed as state Farm Service Agency and rural development directors. Tonsager, a former South Dakota Farmers Union official who spoke to the NFU national convention March 14, confirmed that he cannot participate in Matz’s group now that he is a federal official.

Rural voters

Obama did better in rural America than any Democratic presidential candidate since Bill Clinton. Political analysts say the rural vote particularly is important in states such as Indiana, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin that also have large urban populations. In those states, the rural vote usually is majority Republican, but if the rural Republican vote is unusually low or the rural Democratic vote is unusually high, it swings the state to the Democrats because the cities and suburbs of those states usually vote Democratic.

In 2008, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was unpopular among farmers because he opposed ethanol and farm bills. The Obama campaign made a major effort to reach out to smaller farmers and supported renewable fuels.

Matz has a long history of involvement in Democratic politics, though he started his career as a South Dakota legal aid attorney hired by Bill Janklow who went on to become a Republican governor. In 1973, Sen. George McGovern, D-S.D., offered Matz a job as counsel to the Select Committee on Nutrition. It then became a permanent standing subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

Matz is a partner at OFW Law, a Washington firm, where his clients include the School Nutrition Association and many agriculture interests. Matz noted that his firm has an office on the Lower Brule Sioux Reservation of South Dakota.

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