When the first annual National Rural Assembly convened in Chantilly, Virginia this year they invited all the presidential candidates to come, address the audience and talk about issues of concern to rural voters. Not a one showed up (and only three appeared via video), and organizers think it has a lot to do with the fact that people in rural areas aren't writing the big checks to candidates so candidates don't have time to meet with them. They discussed this in this segment on NPR this morning.
People in rural communities account for 26% of the population, but only 5% of campaign contributions to presidential candidates, according to Bill Bishop of The Daily Yonder, a project of the Center for Rural Strategies. Even the highest contributing rural county, Lea County in New Mexico, which has given $271,150 thus far in the 2008 presidential cycle, is dwarfed by just one zip code in New York, the lucrative 10021 Upper East Side neighborhood which has already poured over $10,700,000 into the race.
Ali Webb of the Kellogg Foundation which helped to fund the National Rural Assembly event, is quoted in the NPR story and places the blame for this poor interest by candidates in rural voters squarely at the feet of this fundraising imbalance. Traditionally a huge voting bloc to court, rural voters appear to be slipping from the presidential radar screen as campaign expenses skyrocket and more and more of their campaign time must be devoted to big donors. As Bishop puts in in the NPR segment, the voters that count now are the ones at "the bottom of checks."
Dee Davis, meanwhile, of the Center for Rural Strategies says it's time for rural voters to get better organized and start holding candidates more accountable to their actions on behalf of people in rural communities. One way to go about that would be mobilizing people for a Fair and Clean Elections public financing model of elections where people power (something rural voters have in spades) takes precendence over money power (where they're less strong).