Thursday, July 10, 2008

Obama sees America, but very little of the mid-South and rural places generally

The New York Times today reports on Obama's travels, on all of the new places he's seeing and marveling at. It also features an interactive map showing where he's been. While the photo accompanying the story shows him in Butte, Montana, (photo top by Jae C. Hong for the AP), a rural place by many measures, the places noted in the story, including in quotes from Obama, are mostly urban -- like New Orleans and Pittsburgh. In fairness, he also speaks glowingly of Texas, which features both rural and urban in the extreme. However, in the photo slide show accompanying the story, all of the rural places visited are in Iowa and New Hampshire -- where all of the candidates blanketed all of those states. One photo (other than those from NH and Iowa) struck me as looking like a rural place (outside Iowa and NH)-- the one from Brownsville, Texas. With a population of almost 140,000, however, Brownsville is urban by virtually any measure.

A quick glance at the map charting Obama's travels shows not a single visit to Arkansas (perhaps that is the Hillary factor and will change before the general election) or Oklahoma. He's been nowhere in Louisiana except New Orleans, in only one spot in Kansas (Lawrence, perhaps?), and only in urban Missouri. He's not spent much time in Alabama or Mississippi, and then only in more populous places. His visits to Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky also have been only to cities. Ditto regarding lots of other states outside the South that have significant rural populations. For example, he hasn't visited North Dakota except apparently Fargo (though I heard on NPR yesterday that he is spending money on television advertising there) or Nebraska except (I gather from the map) Omaha. In Utah, he has only be in Salt Lake City, in Idaho, only Boise, in Washington, only Seattle, and in New York only greater New York City. I could go on.

In short, Obama is still missing out on most of rural America. So, he may be getting an eyeful that is new to him, but there is a great deal about how rural Americans -- about 20% of the populace -- live and work that he's not seeing. While I understand any campaign's draw to the economies of scale represented by visiting cities, Obama and his team should remedy this oversight (or neglect?). He should do this not only for strategic reasons -- to appear interested in rural people and concerns and therefore to have a better chance of garnering the rural vote -- but also so that Obama's education about the country he wishes to govern will be a little more complete.

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