Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Presidential candidates neglect rural and agricultural concerns -- even in delegate-rich California

In a post a few days ago, I noted Presidential candidates' neglect of "fly over states," such as North Dakota. Like other less populous (and therefore less delegate-laden) states, North Dakota hasn't attracted any candidate visits. Of course, there may be more to candidate-scheduling choices than delegate count. North Dakota is apparently a not very glamorous place to spend time making stump speeches and pressing the flesh. Neither, apparently, are regions of the big delegate prize on offer today: California.

A few mainstream media stories in the past week have focused on the candidates' neglect of more rural, exurban, and agricultural-oriented regions of the Golden State. One appeared in the NYTimes last week under the headline: "Sprawling, Diverse State Poses Special Challenges for Candidates." The story notes notes that California is sometimes considered a microcosm of the country, and it reports on some of the creative ways candidates have sought to reach voters in towns and cities where candidate appearances are not feasible. Like another story in a national media outlet, "Forgotten Valley" in yesterday's Chicago Tribune, the NYT story also provides illustrations of middle class economic woes and mentions immigration issues.

The Tribune story focuses in particular on California's Great Central Valley, home to some 6.5 million people and the fastest growing region of the state. While I knew the Great Valley was basically our nation's "breadbasket," and while I knew home foreclosures in Stockton were among the highest in the nation, I did not know that, with a per capita income of $24.5K and falling, the Great Valley is poorer than Appalachia. If it were a state, it would rank 48th in per capita income. Even with a population far exceeding that of North Dakota, no candidates have visited (although Bill Clinton appeared in Sacramento yesterday and in Davis a few weeks ago). Must be the lack of glamor ... or the fact that rural and agricultural issues get candidate lip service only in the run up to the Iowa caucuses.

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