Gauging presidential support in rural Minnesota

The state hasn't backed a GOP presidential candidate since Richard Nixon in 1972.

Trump display
A Donald Trump political message is engraved into the grass at a farm in southeast Minnesota. The state hasn't backed a GOP presidential candidate since Richard Nixon in 1972. Noah Fish / Forum News Service

NORTHFIELD, Minn. — Societal values and policy will be the driving factors for rural Minnesotans voting in the upcoming presidential election.

Minnesota hasn't backed a GOP presidential candidate since Richard Nixon in 1972, but some in rural Minnesota think this could be the year the state goes red. Doug Felton said he "hopes and prays it does."

Felton owns and operates around 3,000 acres of irrigated crops at Felton Farms in Northfield. Felton, who turns 74 next week, said he's farmed his entire life.

Felton's list of reasons he's voting for Trump is long, but most of the issues are about personal values rather than agricultural policy that directly influences him. The importance of values is what separates rural America from the rest of the country, Felton said.

"I'm all over the place, but it's all of these issues that are part of this election," he said.


But not everyone in rural Minnesota agrees.

Meg Stuedemann is a dairy farmer in Belle Plaine, Minn., who recently penned an op-ed for the Biden campaign stating her support. Unlike Felton, Stuedemann's reasonings for her Nov. 3 vote all have to do with agricultural policy.

"Farmers’ livelihoods are intertwined with the environment and natural resources, including soil, water, climate and weather. Biden understands that to us, environmental risk is as serious as a heart attack," Stuedemann wrote. "(Biden) will champion policies and programs that reverse the negative effects of climate change and will play fair in coordinating climate efforts with other countries around the world."

Stuedemann also wrote in her essay how the emergency support from Congress that farmers have received in recent years is only a short-term solution, and farmers need "strong and lasting relationships with trading partners who trust the word and bond of the United States in the international marketplace."

An open letter from members of the ag community in support of Joe Biden was signed by Eunie Biel, a county chair of the Minnesota Farmers Union; Grant Herfindahl, former state director of the USDA FSA; and William Oemichen, former deputy commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

The letter addresses the same policy issues as Stuedemann, and doesn't get into societal or religious values.

"(Joe Biden and Kamala Harris) will respect and listen to agricultural science, tackle climate change head on, and value the livelihoods of rural Americans," the letter said.

Back in Northfield, it's not agricultural issues that have propelled Felton's support of Trump. In fact, Felton said some of Trump's decisions on trade relations have been "detrimental" to farmers, and livestock farmers "really got hurt." Deals relating to ethanol, as Felton is a member of Al-Corn Clean Fuel Cooperative, have been bad for his operation.


"More could've been done (by Trump) for the ethanol industry," he said. "But it's impossible to keep everybody happy, and we can't let China run our country and steal our technology."

What has influenced Felton are things like cutting regulations, immigration policy and support of the First and Second amendments.

Felton Farms was host to a campaign rally that featured Eric Trump, President Donald Trump's middle son, exactly three weeks before the Nov. 3 general election. The rally came to be because Felton's wife is the secretary of the Second Congressional District's Republican Party, and they've hosted regular meetings at their shop this past year. He said they got a phone call from the Trump campaign the week before the rally, asking if they could use their farm for an event.

"I said, well, I needed a Trump flag because mine's getting kind of tacky," Felton said of the phone call. "And he said, I'll do you one better, and bring you a Trump flag and a Trump, so I said, sounds like a deal."

Eric Trump's headlining speech at the farm labeled the presidential election as not Republicans versus Democrats, but "right versus wrong."

"Make America Great Again" flags like the one flying in front of Felton's farm can be seen across rural southeast Minnesota, and Felton said it's because the area is filled with "God-fearing, Christian and hardworking independent businessmen."

"We appreciate getting some reduction in regulations, and believe in freedom and our first and second amendment rights, and believe in law and order and supporting our police," Felton said.

Video from the event showed after Trump explained how illegal immigration in the country had decreased during his father's term, some members of the crowd chanted "build the wall." Felton said he supports Trump's stance on immigration and that doesn't make him a racist.


"I believe America needs immigrants, they just need to need to come in the right way," said Felton, whose own family immigrated from Germany and Norway in the mid-1800s. "(Immigrants) are good people who work hard, and it's fine they are here, there's a place for them, but we have to have borders."

Felton said he hasn't always been a Republican, and 20 years ago he was a "Humphrey Democrat."

"Have I always been here? No. But when the values change as they have, I have no choice," Felton said.

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