Romney courts farm states, focuses on agriculture

Gov. Mitt Romney focused on agriculture policy at his Tuesday campaign visit to a farm in Van Meter, Iowa. (Clay Masters for Harvest Public Media)
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Reporter, Iowa Public Radio
Clay Masters reports for Iowa Public Radio. He previously reported for Harvest Public Media while based at NET Nebraska.

Still riding high off his strong presidential debate performance, GOP presidential candidate Gov. Mitt Romney re-focused on farm policy while touring through Midwestern swing states. Fresh with momentum, states like Iowa look to be back in play for the Romney campaign, which has the former governor talking ag.

Flanked by a John Deere tractor sporting the Romney-Ryan campaign’s trademark red, white and blue “R,” Romney addressed more than 1,200 people Tuesday on a windswept corn field in Van Meter, Iowa, just west of Des Moines.

Romney told the crowd President Obama has no plan for rural America or for agriculture. Romney emphasized that he would seek to ease environmental regulations – music to many farmers’ ears – and called the regulatory burden under Obama “crazy.”

“You need regulation for markets to work effectively, but I’m going to cut back on regulation,” Romney told the crowd. “I’m going to put a cap on regulation and any new regulation will have to be approved by congress, I’m not letting the politicians off the hook.”

That’s something that resonates with voter and rally-goer LeMar Koethy. He grew up on a dairy farm and says farmers and ranchers already have a lot on their plate and play a big part in the economy.

“Stay out of their way. They regulate, regulate, regulate," Koethy said. "I don’t know where these environmentalists get their ideas from, but it isn’t from anything that makes any sense.”

Romney also decried the estate tax, which makes it harder for farmers to keep farms in the family and said the president would stop farmers from being able to easily pass their land on to their kids.

"You know he has a plan for the death tax – he’s planning on raising the death tax pretty significantly," Romney said. "My view is that you paid for that farm once, you shouldn’t have to pay for it again."

The Obama campaign has said the president plans to return the estate tax to what it was in 2009.

Romney said he also wants to make it easier for farmers and grain exporters to get their products into the world marketplace.

“What I’m going to do is make sure that I devote my time to getting trade promotion authority,” Romney said. “(And) use that authority to negotiate new deals that we open up new markets for American farms and for American goods of all kinds, because we can compete on a level playing field with anyone in the world.”

At the campaign stop, Romney blamed Obama’s leadership for Congress’ failure to pass a farm bill this year. Central to farmers, agriculture legislation was held up by House Republicans who refused to bring the bill to the floor before it expired at the end of September.

Romney released a 14-page white paper Tuesday, which outlines his farm policy. (Read the paper on Scribd here) Obama outlines his agricultural policies on his campaign website.

For much of both the primary and general election campaigns, agriculture policy has taken a backseat to the general economy, but with states like Iowa, Michigan, Ohio and Colorado up for grabs, the campaign may pivot back to the farm in the days ahead.

The latest Gallup “likely voter” polls show Romney and Obama neck and neck. The former Massachusetts governor showed a sign he’s still getting used to it.

"If I become… When I become president," Romney said to cheers from the crowd. "I will do everything in my power to strengthen the family farm and to strengthen our economy."