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Obama vs. McCain?

Will candidates' ag statements affect Red River Valley vote? FARGO, N.D. -- The other day, I attended a news conference, of sorts, regarding the agricultural positions of presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama. On the stump for Obama were state...

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Will candidates' ag statements affect Red River Valley vote?

FARGO, N.D. -- The other day, I attended a news conference, of sorts, regarding the agricultural positions of presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama. On the stump for Obama were state Sen. Keith Langseth, D-Minn., and Rep. Chris Griffin, D-N.D., a Grand Forks lawyer and native of Larimore.

The event attracted a tiny group of reporters. There was little news, except this overarching point: Obama voted for the 2008 farm bill and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., voted against it and all other farm bills.

McCain is no friend to agriculture, the Democrats say.

"I thought he would have switched positions a little, but he's been against ethanol the whole time," Langseth says. "I suppose he thinks he appeals to people who like 'the maverick' in him. But I think -- boy, in this particular area -- I think sugar beet growers tended to lean Republican."

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Langseth says McCain appears to oppose the entire farm bill -- not just one or two things.

"I think he thinks government should be out of agriculture," he says. "And you need government for stability. I've been around a long time and I've seen these big (market) dives and there has to be some kind of safety net there."

Langseth is probably right.

This is the stomping grounds of both Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D. and House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn. -- the first among champions in a phalanx of regional members of Congress who wrote and pushed through the 2008 farm bill over the objections of President George Bush.

Both men have strongly favored prudent and significant investments in renewable energy and research, including corn and cellulosic ethanol. North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven supported the 2008 farm bill, even though Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer -- a former Republican governor from North Dakota -- didn't.

"I think it's there, if people just listen to what McCain has said," Langseth says, of the impetus for the region to go Democratic in the November election. Griffin thinks the vote will be "very close" between the two candidates in North Dakota. He says farmers in North Dakota historically have voted Republican, except in the past seven or eight years.

"There's been a move for some of them to realize that voting Republican isn't going to be in their best interests," Griffin says. He doubts the farm policy issue will be the "determining factor" in who farmers vote on for president, but thinks "it'll be considered to a large extent."

Eric Aasmundstad of Devils Lake, N.D., now the longest-running president the North Dakota Farm Bureau has ever had, says he's not entirely clear on what the McCain agricultural agenda is, with the election just two months away. He isn't sure who will get the message out, at this point.

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Aasmundstad says the question of support for McCain is more complicated than whether they would vote for a farm bill. He says McCain's campaign may promote him as good for farmers because he'd continue to develop markets around the world.

Although he hasn't seen policy statements on it, Aasmundstad thinks McCain would favor supporting farmers more through crop insurance improvements rather than traditional price support programs.

McCain in the past few farm bills has been behind amendment efforts to cut the loan rate for sugar.

McCain "is not going to forget agriculture because he knows that what agriculture does for society allows us to be the free society we are," Aasmundstad says.

Speaking for himself, and not for the organization, Aasmundstad minimizes McCain's stated opposition to ethanol supports.

The state Farm Bureau has policy that supports ethanol -- approving on tax incentives for ethanol production -- but opposing mandates that established the fuel in the state of Minnesota. Aasmundstad says all citizens need to consider the economics of increased taxes to pay for many program initiatives Obama has talked about.

McCain may not be for farm programs, Aasmundstad says, but he's for less federal control in agriculture. "The reality is, farm programs are not going to stop" if McCain is elected, he adds "It may change forms, but it's going to continue on in some fashion."

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