Democratic presidential contenders Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar expressed support Saturday for strengthening antitrust laws and enforcement to break up big agriculture monopolies.
“You’ve got these giant corporations that are making bigger and bigger profits … and they’re putting the squeeze on family farms and small farms,” Warren said at the Heartland Forum, which was focused on rural issues.
The U.S. senator from Massachusetts called for breaking up some of the biggest farming corporations “so that they not only do not have that kind of economic power, so that they’re wiping out competition, so they’re taking all the profits for themselves … but also so that they don’t have that kind of political power.”
While supporting an antitrust approach, Klobuchar, a senator and Minnesota Democrat, also proposed putting a fee on corporate mergers to help investigate noncompetitive practices.
“If we stifle competition through monopolies, we’re not just going to bring up the prices for consumers, we’re going to stifle entrepreneurship,” she said.
Targeting monopolies was a key part of the agriculture policy Warren rolled out this week, which included a handful of proposals aimed at helping family farmers compete in a market increasingly saturated by major corporations.
Klobuchar and former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, another White House hopeful who attended the forum, also rolled out rural-focused policies this week. Klobuchar announced a $1 trillion infrastructure plan that would help expand access to rural broadband and strengthen roads and bridges. Delaney offered a comprehensive rural plan that included proposals to strengthen family farmers and rural infrastructure.
Other White House contenders at the forum were former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro and Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, who is considering launching a bid.
The attention on agricultural communities and issues is the result of a recognition that Democrats need to do more to win over rural voters, especially in places like Iowa. The state has long been a presidential battleground, but Iowa has trended more solidly Republican over the past two election cycles, a troubling sign for Democrats seeking to oust President Donald Trump.
“There needs to be a better connection made between politicians and rural Americans,” said Aaron Heley Lehman, the president of Iowa Farmers’ Union, which hosted the forum and bussed in members from neighboring states to hear the candidates.
In the early days of the 2020 Democratic primary, many candidates are focusing on building that connection. Several contenders, including former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, have campaigned in parts of rural Iowa that haven’t seen much Democratic activity in years. Delaney is the only Democratic candidate so far to visit all 99 of Iowa’s counties.
That’s a key part of what Democrats need to do to win back rural America, according to Iowa state Rep. Mary Gaskill – simply show up.
“There are a lot of people who are hesitant to come out as a Democrat, because they all feel neglected, or abused or shunned by their neighbor,” she said.
Gaskill is the only Democratic lawmaker in her area, and represents a red county that went for Trump by more than 20 percentage points in 2016 — but one that Barack Obama won by nearly 12 points in 2012. Now, at least two candidates – Sens. Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand – have campaigned there, a development Gaskill welcomes.
“We might see our neighbors there, that we didn’t know they were Democrats,” she said.
O’Rourke didn’t attend Saturday’s forum. But his first Iowa swing as a presidential candidate included stops in small towns that swung from Democrats to Republicans in 2016.
He didn’t change much of his message — during the swing O’Rourke still talked about the need for gun control, legal marijuana and a compassionate immigration program. But his top strategist in the state, Norm Sterzenbach, said the key was to bring those policies to people that hadn’t heard directly from Democrats before.
“Maybe those ideas you like, maybe you don’t, but you’ll never know if we’re not in there communicating,” he said.