“Rick Berg’s problem is not his campaign,” writes Tom Dennis in an editorial for the Grand Forks Herald. “Rick Berg’s problem is the Farm Bill. No, not the Farm Bill specifically, although that’s playing a role. It’s the Farm Bill as a symbol: a symbol of Republicans in the U.S. House and their refusal to compromise with Democrats, even when obvious bipartisan solutions await.”
That’s a rather nifty leap in logic. Certainly the farm bill has been brought up in the race – Democrat candidates Heidi Heitkamp and Pam Gulleson have been braying about it endlessly – but to what extent to voters really care about it?
Heitkamp’s campaign has taken to dressing a staffer up as a chicken, and posing the costumed operative at events holding signs accusing Rick Berg of not debating the farm bill. But at the first debate, held before a crowd stacked with Heitkamp supporters, the North Dakota Broadcaster’s Association opted not to ask a single question about the farm bill (audio of that debate here). That choice would seem to indicate that the farm bill is not nearly as important as either the Democrats or Mr. Dennis seem to think it is.
But there’s another data point which puts a monkey wrench in Dennis’ narrative. While Pam Gulleson has been every bit as out-spoken as her Democrat colleague Heidi Heitkamp on the farm bill, it isn’t getting any traction against Republican Kevin Cramer. The outcome of the Cramer/Gulleson race is doubted by few serious observers in North Dakota politics. Cramer is on cruise control, and Gulleson’s campaign is floundering.
If North Dakotans were truly as indignant about the lack of a farm bill, and supposed Republican obstructionism, one would expect Cramer to be hurt as well. But he hasn’t been.
What’s wrong with Berg’s campaign is that it hasn’t been very competently managed. I still believe he’s winning, but not by as wide a margin as he should be, and that has very little to do with an issue like the farm bill that has been on the margins of this race.
NDSU farm management expert Dwight Aakre summed up the farm bill’s importance (or lack there of) back in July. “Nothing really changes for producers,” Aakre said. “There is way too much made of the idea that farmers need to know what the farm bill is in order to plan for next year. That’s just not true.”
The farm bill has become more political football than public policy of dire importance to farmers.