Trump tariffs incite farm belt fights
Americans feeling effects could sway some races
WASHINGTON – Iowa Democrat Abby Finkenauer’s campaign ad opens with the story of her sister and brotherin-law, corn and soybean farmers who the candidate explains “just want to sell their crops and make a living.” “Tariffs should be fair,” Finkenauer declares, “but they shouldn’t make things harder.” To drive home her point, Finkenauer closes the 30-second spot with a threeword postscript. “This,” she says pointedly, “is personal.” In the nation’s farm belt and manufacturing hubs, where Americans are feeling the fallout from President Donald Trump’s duties on imported aluminum, steel and other goods, tariffs and trade have emerged as pivotal issues in the midterm elections Nov. 6. In the rest of the country, where Americans have been largely isolated from the impact of the president’s actions, trade issues barely register with voters in this fall’s political campaigns. “It’s not a huge issue dominating the election,” said Leah Askarinam, a reporter and analyst for Inside Elections, a nonpartisan newsletter that tracks congressional and gubernatorial campaigns across the country. Eighteen percent of voters listed trade wars and 17 percent cited tariffs among the issues that concern them the most in a national survey conducted in late August and early September. Health care, education and infrastructure were the top issues on the minds of voters surveyed by the Alliance for American Manufacturing. In Wisconsin, which has a sizable agriculture and manufacturing base, 31 percent of voters say increased tariffs on steel and aluminum imports will improve the economy, and 52 percent say they will hurt, according to a Marquette Law School poll in September. In Iowa, Finkenauer, a Democratic state representative running for Congress, uses the issue to hammer Republican incumbent Rod Blum, who represents the northeastern part of the state. Farmers pay the price for Trump’s tariffs, Finkenauer argues in a campaign ad, “and Rod Blum is letting it happen.” Blum, one of the most vulnerable House incumbents this election cycle, is a Trump supporter who appeared alongside the president at a roundtable discussion in Iowa in July. Blum thanked Trump for showing “political courage” in negotiating trade deals. Trump introduced Blum at the event but forgot his name. He referred to the congressman as “Matt Blum.” In Iowa’s governor’s race, the Democratic challenger, Fred Hubbell, accused Republican incumbent Kim Reynolds of defending Trump – and not farmers. Hubbell leads by 3.5 percentage points, according to Real Clear Politics, a website that averages polling data. Even the Chinese have tried to capitalize on the politics of trade. Late last month, a Chinese government-run media company placed a four-page supplement in the Sunday Des Moines Register plugging the benefits of U.S.-Chinese trade. Trump accused the Chinese of meddling in the upcoming midterm elections. In North Dakota, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a vulnerable Democrat, bludgeoned GOP challenger Kevin Cramer for supporting Trump’s trade policies. A Heitkamp campaign ad features former Democratic state Rep. Charles Linderman, a farmer, standing in a soybean field and talking about the toll Trump’s tariffs took on his family. The spot ends with Linderman looking into the camera and speaking directly to Cramer. “You don’t even care,” he says. Even so, the issue doesn’t appear to be helping Heitkamp, who is down by nearly 9 points in the Real Clear Politics polling average. “Cramer isn’t being hurt by this,” said Jennifer Duffy, who follows Senate and gubernatorial races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. In Tennessee’s closely watched Senate race, tariffs are the focus of a campaign ad by Democrat Phil Bredesen, a former governor who is locked in a hardfought battle with GOP Rep. Marsha Blackburn for the seat being vacated by Republican Bob Corker. Standing in front of stacks of wooden whiskey barrels, Bredesen argues that tariffs hurt the state’s auto industry, farmers and “even Tennessee exports like Jack Daniel’s.” Blackburn said that she opposes tariffs and has told the White House so but that it’s time someone stood up to other countries such as China, which have waged trade wars against the USA for years. Challengers used tariffs to attack Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., who is in the toughest election fight of her career against Democrat Lisa Brown, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is running for a third term but trailing Democrat Tony Evers. McMorris Rodgers and Walker have spoken out against across-the-board tariffs, but their opponents said the two have done little to stop them. But it’s hard to know whether tradewill be a potent enough issue to motivate voters, said Christopher Larimer, a political scientist at the University of Northern Iowa. “I’m pretty skeptical at this point that anything will actually persuade a voter to vote for the opposite party,” Larimer said. Neither political party wants to make the election a referendum on tariffs, Askarinam said. “That’s not what this election is about for the Democrats or the Republicans,” she said. “It’s more about electing a check on the president or electing somebody who represents you better than the incumbent, somebody who cares about what’s happening to your pocketbook in terms of health care premiums. That’s the main message. Tariffs might help them deliver that message, but tariffs are not the actual message.”
President Donald Trump’s tariffs and trade policies have become an issue in November’s midterm elections, particularly in farm states.