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ROBB AUSTIN'S TURN

Rural Voters May be the Real Heros

August 19, 2008

In the 1960 movie classic "The Magnificent Seven", Steve McQueen, Yul Brynner, James Coburn, and Charles Bronson play a group of gunslingers hired by rural peasant farmers in a small Mexican border town to end the reign of terror by local desperadoes.

One of the town’s youth asks Steve McQueen how he became so courageous to take on the banditos who were going to outnumber the heroes.

McQueen, who defined "cool" in the 1960s, gazed out at the town’s farmers who were toiling in nearby fields and responded, "These people scratching out a living with their bare hands, with the responsibility of raising a family, they’re the brave ones. I don’t have that kind of bravery."

Much the same can be said today of family farmers living in rural towns across the country who are mustering up all the courage they have to stay in business and eke out a living on their land during this economic downturn. These rural farmers and families are also coveted by Presidential candidates Barrack Obama and John McCain and may be the voting demographic that ultimately decides the election.

In 2004, 70% of this voting group supported President Bush but this year their votes are up for grabs. McCain hopes that history repeats but Obama is pulling out all the stops to cut into McCain’s potential support with this voting block. For instance, if John Kerry had received just 45% of the rural vote he - not President Bush - would have been elected.

Rural votes are particularly important in the swing states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, Virginia, and Missouri. Obama has opened more rural campaign offices than past Democratic nominees and McCain should take note. Obama shocked Hillary Clinton with a strategy of out-organizing her in the caucus states and he very well may be using a similar strategy to win the rural vote.

McCain is hoping that voters will remember what Obama said about rural voters last April in a speech to supporters in San Francisco. In part, he said rural people "cling to guns and religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them." This gaffe underscored the notion that he doesn’t understand the rural lifestyle.

The high price of gasoline is hitting rural voters particularly hard. Rural families live miles from conveniences many others take for granted - such as grocery stores, shopping districts, and schools. Rural home owners are also feeling local property tax pressures as school district budgets are skyrocketing due to the cost of energy and school bus transportation.

Farmers must also dig deep into their pockets to keep farm equipment running and they are dependent on gas-guzzling four-wheel drive vehicles to haul farm equipment and other necessities such as hay and livestock feed.

Obama is creative in his effort to win the rural vote. In Ohio he has announced a grass-roots campaign called "Barns for Obama" in which farmers will be encouraged to paint their barn with the Obama campaign logo. This is the rural equivalent of a suburban yard sign and it could be effective and spread to other states.

McCain believes his positions on cultural values are more in tune with rural America and is counting on this voting block to give him the needed edge to overcome Obama’s expected support in urban areas. McCain’s support for expanded domestic oil drilling is resonating with rural voters who cannot afford $4 a gallon gasoline long-term.

This voting block has been referred to by different demographic names over the years. In 1968, they were Richard Nixon’s "silent majority" and he rode them to a narrow victory over Hubert Humphrey. In 1976, Jimmy Carter, a peanut farmer from Plains, Georgia, identified with them and won a majority of their vote and the Presidency. In 1980 and 1984 they supported Ronald Reagan and were part of the coalition called "Reagan Democrats" while this was the "Bubba vote" that supported Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996.

They are vitally important and could very well decide the winner in this year’s Presidential election.

Even Steve McQueen recognized they were a cut above the rest, and you can be sure that the candidate who understands this will be the one who gets their vote.