Obama seeks rural votes

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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The White House will need every vote it can find throughout midwestern swing states in 2012, and on Friday it released a new economic report in advance of President Barack Obama’s three-state rural tour, set to begin next week.

The administration hopes the new report, titled “Jobs and Economic Security for Rural America,” can bring to the forefront some of the president’s economic accomplishments in small town America, said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

Asked why the president was not going to southern states hit harder by the economic downturn, Vilsack responded that Obama is traveling to Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota because “it is important for the president to be in a place where he can underscore the significant contribution of agriculture to the country.”

Iowa is a swing state and Obama’s lead has dropped sharply in Minnesota. And the president’s tour through solid-blue Illinois — he launched his political career in Chicago — will take him close to TV markets in two more swing states: Wisconsin and Missouri.

Obama trailed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney 39 to 42 percent in a July poll of Iowa voters conducted by Mason-Dixon. A June SurveyUSA poll had Obama and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty evenly matched at 46 percent, even though Obama won the state by 10 points in 2008.

During the tour, the president will appear at five events where he hopes to hear good ideas on how to help rural Americans, White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said Friday.

The trip is considered official business by the White House, and is not being funded by Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign. (RELATED: Court of Appeals strikes down Obamacare individual mandate)

“The president is concerned about rural areas and is taking action,” said Vilsack. For example, he explained, Obama’s deputies are establishing agreements for simpler enforcement of environmental-protection regulations. He added that the administration is also using regulations to protect wetlands and to encourage hiking and other recreational activities.

“[W]e have been working with the agencies to determine how we might be able to provide greater regulatory certainty in a couple of areas,” Vilsack remarked, adding that farmers and other producers are “excited about this concept.”

The president has instructed members of his cabinet “to go to rural America this year to listen and learn,” Vilsack continued.

So far, he said, about 50 agency officials and cabinet members have traveled to rural areas.