Ethanol and the Presidential Election
The farmer and the cowman won't be friends.
12:00 AM, Sep 26, 2008 • By DAVE JUDAY
Jay Cost of the "HorseRaceBlog" on RealClearPolitics.com delved into an area where few mainstream political commentators tread--farm state politics. His post was entitled: " Does McCain Have a Rural Problem? "
Earlier in the campaign, somewhat famously, Barrack Obama commented about embittered rural citizens "clinging to religion and guns." That comment is his rural problem. And he has it in West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, and parts of Pennsylvania. McCain's problem, as posited insightfully by Cost who has a real grasp on the economies and politics of these corn-belt states, is Indiana, Iowa, and Nebraska. And it all comes down to this: ethanol. Cost wrote, in part:
Cost went on to discuss Nebraska where McCain is getting pummeled on ethanol, chiefly by surrogate Obama spokesman Sen. Ben Nelson. Indeed, Cost points out that McCain only has to win one more vote in Indiana and Nebraska--not run away with it via a 20 percent-or-larger-margin as Bush did in 2004. Cost concludes: "I don't know if the McCain campaign needs to engage Obama in Indiana. Nevertheless, it is fair to suggest that it consider tightening its message to farmers. A quick Google search betrays McCain's soft underbelly on this front."
Nebraska is an interesting case--as pointed out recently by former agriculture secretary and now Nebraska Senate candidate Mike Johanns, the winner of the presidential race in the state gets 2 of the 5 electoral votes. The other three are awarded on the basis of the winner in each of the three congressional districts. That is why the Obama campaign has 15 people on the ground in the Omaha field office--despite the fact that all 5 of the Cornhusker State's electoral votes have gone to a Republican candidate in every election since 1964. If Obama can win one district in Nebraska, it could give him one electoral vote, and if the race is that close it could matter.
Ethanol is not a new issue for McCain--you think by now he'd have a strategy. After all, it is plausible to argue that he was not elected president in 2000 because of ethanol--long before it was such a prominent national issue. He skipped the Iowa caucuses back then because of his stances on ethanol, and despite some catching up in other states (famously Michigan) he never got over the slow start.
So how would McCain tighten his message? To begin with he could engage in Nebraska and begin to counterpunch. Since 2000, ethanol has matured as an issue. It is now an issue with two sides within agriculture. Livestock producers are paying the price of higher valued corn; and when (or if) cellulosic ethanol ever comes on line, alfalfa hay and pasture land will become more scarce and costly.
McCain's position on ethanol, i.e. letting the market take over, eliminating the mandate and tax credits for using the stuff, is not that different than the position of the Nebraska Cattlemen's Association, which is this: