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Trump Campaigning for Farm-State Republicans in Tight Races

Three Senate races, seven House races, and three statewide referendums could dramatically change the food and agriculture policy landscape after Tuesday’s midterms. The Congressional races involve numerous members of the House and Senate Agriculture and Agriculture Appropriations Committees; the referendums address animal welfare, soda taxes, and carbon taxes. President Trump is stumping for several of the Republican candidates in close races in farm states.

At campaign rallies, President Trump routinely frames the midterm elections as a vote on his legacy: “I’m not on the ticket but I am on the ticket because this is a referendum about me.” Trump was in Indiana last weekend, where Republicans hope to defeat Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly, speaking to farming group FFA about tax cuts, regulatory relief, ethanol, and the trade war with China. Trump has campaigned against two other farm-state Democrats – Senators Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Jon Tester of Montana – who also face close races.

Donnelly and Heitkamp, members of the Senate Agriculture Committee, are two of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats running for reelection this year, according to analysts. Tester serves on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees USDA and FDA spending. Among closely contested Senate races, Donnelly, Heitkamp, and Tester have the most direct impact on food and agriculture policy.

If Congress is unable to agree on a farm bill this year, the House and Senate Agriculture Committees will have to start over next year. Republican hopes of writing welfare reform into the farm bill would evaporate if Democrats win control of the House. House Republicans wrote and passed their version of the farm bill, headlined by stricter work requirements for SNAP, by two votes last summer.

Three Senate races

Narrowly elected to the Senate in a strongly Republican state in 2012, Donnelly is campaigning in Indiana as a common-sense, independent voice. Wealthy businessman Mike Braun, the Republican nominee, says he will help Trump “drain the swamp in DC.” Trade has dominated the race. “The state illustrates the issue’s complexity,” said Bloomberg. “As the nation’s top steel producer with a large agricultural economy, some are benefiting from Trump’s tariffs on metal imports, even as farmers and manufacturers are being hurt by the duties and retaliatory tax on U.S. exports.” Polls indicate Braun has a slight lead but within the margin of error, says the Indianapolis Star.

While Indiana is rated a toss-up, analysts say North Dakota is leaning in favor of Representative Kevin Cramer, the GOP nominee. The North Dakota race has taken on new life in recent days with Heitkamp emphasizing the impact on the state—”an unfolding disaster” for soybean growers—from tit-for-tat tariffs that have disrupted farm exports to China, formerly the top customer for soybeans, said The Hagstrom Report.

And analysts say the polls in Montana favor Democrat Jon Tester over Republican Matt Rosendale. Trump will hold a fourth rally in support of Rosendale on Saturday, according to campaign officials. The AP said Montana and Indiana will top the list of states for presidential campaign visits this election cycle; no president has visited Montana more than three times. The president has vowed to punish Tester for derailing his nomination of the White House physician for secretary of Veterans Affairs. Tester, a farmer, is focusing on health care in the race. Rosendale was elected in 2016 as the state’s insurance and securities commissioner and state auditor.

Seven House races

On the House Agriculture Committee, two Republicans from opposite sides of the country, Jeff Denham of California and John Faso of New York, are locked in toss-up races. Denham, elected in the Tea Party wave of 2010, is challenged by Democrat Josh Harder, a former venture capitalist turned community college instructor, in a generally conservative Central Valley district. Denham parlayed with hardline House conservatives for passage of the 2018 farm bill and was a leader in unsuccessful efforts to find a GOP compromise on agricultural guest workers.

National political committees have targeted the New York race between Faso and Democrat Antonio Delgado as a battleground for control of the House. Both candidate are lawyers by training; Delgado is a Rhodes Scholar from Schenectady. A Monmouth University poll released on Tuesday found Delgado ahead, 49-44, with a margin of error of 5 percentage points, said the New York Post.

Trump held an airport rally for second-term Representative Mike Bost in Murphysboro, in southern Illinois, on Saturday. A former firefighter and state legislator, Bost is challenged by Brendan Kelly, the St. Clair County state’s attorney. Kelly says he is the first prosecutor in Illinois to sue drugmakers in the opioid crisis. Bost says he has worked for regulatory relief and to improve health care for veterans.

Bost is among three Republicans on the House Agriculture Committee who are regarded as slight favorites to win tight races. The others are Representatives Rodney Davis, from an adjoining Illinois district, and Don Bacon, who represents Omaha and its Nebraska suburbs.

Davis, in his third term, was a leader in slowing the adoption of Obama-era school food reforms, saying they were costly and difficult to implement. He is challenged by Democrat Betsy Londrigan, a former Senate staffer who faults Davis for voting for Trump’s tax cut bill and to repeal Obamacare. Davis says tax cuts and regulatory relief are congressional success stories.

Bacon was a speaker at the October 9 rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa, where Trump crowed about clearing the way for year-round sales of E15. The president acknowledged Bacon and Representative Jeff Fortenberry, from eastern Nebraska, during his remarks, said the Omaha World Herald. Polls suggest Bacon is in good shape against Democrat Kara Eastman, founder of a nonprofit poisoning-prevention organization.

A member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee in charge of USDA’s budget, David Young, is seeking his third term representing the southwestern quadrant of Iowa, a district that includes Des Moines, the state capital. Handicappers call the race a toss-up. Democratic challenger Cindy Axne, a small business owner, stresses better-paying jobs and improvements to Obamacare. Young, a former chief of staff for Grassley, points to economic recovery and campaigns against overregulation.

Kansas Representative Kevin Yoder, who serves with Young on the House Appropriations Subcommittee, is a slight underdog to Democrat Sharice Davids in a district in the Kansas City suburbs. An attorney, Davids calls for a middle-class tax cut, expansion of Medicaid and tax incentives for wind energy. Yoder has emphasized border security, email privacy and “voting to restore choice and competition in the health insurance marketplace.”

Three referendums

Voters in California will decide for the second time in a decade whether farmers must provide more space for hens, sows and veal calves to move around. Advocates of Proposition 12 say it will make California agriculture “cage free” and require producers in other states to follow those standards if they want to ship eggs, pork or veal into the Golden State. Proponents enjoyed a large lead in fundraising and expect victory.

In Washington state, Big Soda provided millions of dollars of support for a statewide referendum, Initiative 1634, to prevent cities and counties from adopting a soda tax, as Seattle did last year. The initiative would bar any new tax, assessment or fee on raw or processed foods. One analyst said there was limited voter support for the proposal and it probably would fail, if only because “yes” means “no” on the ballot.

Also in Washington state, Initiative 1631 would set a fee of $15 per tonne on large-scale emitters of greenhouse gases. Voters overwhelmingly rejected a carbon tax in 2016, but advocates say a fee is a practical step to assure clean air. The oil industry has bankrolled the opposition. I-1631 is one of the most expensive ballot questions in state history.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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