President Donald Trump on Thursday claimed a trade breakthrough with European allies, hailing it as a benefit to farmers as he defended his trade policies in a visit to Iowa. (July 26)
WASHINGTON â€“ As goes the soybean harvest, so could go control of Congress.
One-third of the nationâ€™s most contested House districtsÂ are home to major soybean farms,Â primarily in the Midwest, a USA TODAYÂ analysis shows.Â President Donald Trump performed strongly in that region in 2016, but the area is now girding for a substantial harvest-time blow from his tariffs, just before voters head to the polls Nov. 6.
From southern Minnesota, where Republicans are hoping to claim an open House seat long held by Democrats, to an Illinois district where Democrats are angling to pick off a Republican incumbent, soybean farmers have watched prices plummet amid an escalating trade war between the U.S. and China.
â€œThe short term is what scares us,â€ said Bill Gordon, a fourth-generation soybean farmer in southern Minnesota who backed Trump two years ago but is concerned about losing tens of thousands of dollars on this yearâ€™s harvest. Â
â€œIt could definitely be an interesting midterm election.â€
Responding to mounting criticism from farm-state Republicans, Trump toured Iowa and Illinois on Thursday, arguing that his trade policies helped industries such as steel. Trump, sportingÂ a â€œMake Our Farmers Great Againâ€ hat, urged patience.
â€œNow China is going after our soybean farmers in the hopes we will surrender our intellectual property,â€ Trump said. “We will not let anyone bully our wonderful American farmers.”
TrumpÂ has also promised to work with theÂ European UnionÂ to try to tear downÂ trade barriers,Â saying that would pave the way for Europe to buy more soybeans. The administration provided few details.
“We just opened up Europe for you farmers,” Trump said in Iowa. “You’re not going to be too angry with Trump, I can tell you.”
Yet, according to the Department of Agriculture, Europe is already open:Â It’s the fifth-largest export marketÂ for U.S. farmers.
The lack of progress on trade deals with ChinaÂ â€“Â evidenced in part by the president’s repeated pleas for farmers to remain patientÂ â€“Â has made it harder for U.S. pork producers and soybean farmers to sell their products.Â
Politically, the issue has given Democrats an opening to blame Republican candidates for the effects of Trumpâ€™s aggressive approach on trade.Â
Democrats need to flip 23 seats held by Republicans to gain control of the House. Republicans appear on more solid footing in the Senate, where a higher share of Democrats are up for election in competitive races.Â Â Â
Democrat Abby Finkenauer, a two-term state lawmaker from Dubuque who is running in a toss-up House contest in eastern Iowa, blasted what she described as Trumpâ€™s â€œTwitter trade warâ€ and said she hoped the president would hear from Iowans on the issue.
â€œThe president needs to change course before he does even more damage,â€ she said.
Incumbent Rep. Rod Blum, a Republican who joined Trump for part of his Iowa visit, praised the president’s long-term strategy in a recent op-ed but also stressed that Iowa farmers â€œneed a â€˜winâ€™ soon.â€
European Union representatives told me that they would start buying soybeans from our great farmers immediately. Also, they will be buying vast amounts of LNG!
â€” Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2018
â€œFarmers and producers are concerned with trade negotiationsÂ but are sticking with the president because they realize the long-term benefits,â€ Blum said.Â â€œWe are already seeing progress.â€
On the other side of the state, in a House district that includes Des Moines, Democrat Cindy Axne has criticized incumbent Republican Rep. David Young for not doing more to stand up to the White House on trade. The district backed President Barack Obama in 2012 but switched to Trump in 2016.
“The burden of Trumpâ€™s trade war has been placed squarely on the shoulders of Iowaâ€™s family farmers, and itâ€™s got to stop,” Axne said, describing Trump’s $12 billion aid program this month for farmers as a “much needed Band-Aid for the havoc these tariffs are causing.”
ColeÂ Staudt, a spokesman for Young, countered that while farmers are undoubtedly concerned about the tariffs, “it’s too early to know” whetherÂ that will Â influence the election.Â Staudt predicted voters are likely more concerned about Axne’s support for an Obama-era water regulation that was heavily opposed by farmers.Â
Tariffs have also played as an issue inÂ Senate races this year, includingÂ the marquee contest in Missouri between incumbent Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill and Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley, who is favored to win that stateâ€™s primary next month.
McCaskill has slammed Trump, while Hawley has largely stuck by the president.
â€œItâ€™ll definitely be an issue â€“ already is,â€ said Blake Hurst, a corn and soybean farmer and president of the Missouri Farm Bureau.Â
â€œWeâ€™re suffering some pain, but people donâ€™t like the way China acts.â€
The political calculation could change if there isn’t a resolution by this fall, when farmers begin to harvestÂ soybeans. Hurst predicted that â€œfarmers and Hawley will start to lose patience as we get closer to harvest if thereâ€™s no progress made.”
After Trump’s announcement Â last week of his plan to send $12 billion in farm aid, soybean prices rallied to aboutÂ $8.60 a bushel midday FridayÂ â€“Â after hitting a 10-year low earlier in July.Â Roughly 60 percent of U.S soybean exports head to China, where they are used to feed livestock and for cooking, but the duties are prompting buyers in China to look elsewhere.
Trump and his supporters have noted that other industriesÂ â€“ namelyÂ steel and aluminumÂ â€“ have benefited from tariffs. While traveling in the Midwest on Thursday, Trump visited a recently revived steel mill to drive home the point.Â Â
And many farmers who backed Trump said they were willing to give him more time. Â
â€œThereâ€™s anxiety, and thatâ€™s going to get some people to vote a different way,â€ said Lawrence Sukalski, a Trump supporter who along with his family farms 3,600 acres of soybeans and corn in southern Minnesota.
â€œBut somebody had to do something sooner or later,â€ Sukalski said. â€œWeâ€™ve been getting stolen from for a long time.â€
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