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In Farm Country, Democrats’ Bitter Harvest

For Immediate Release: 
Wednesday, November 3, 2010

WASHINGTON, Nov. 3 – Just two years ago, Democratic political strategists defended passage of a status-quo farm subsidy bill by claiming it was essential to the survival of freshmen members from farm districts and to the party’s continued control of the House.

But after Tuesday’s devastating losses, most of those marginal seats are in Republican hands, and rural victories were critical to the GOP’s takeover of the House.

An Environmental Working Group (EWG) analysis of the 2010 mid-term election results shows that for besieged rural Democrats, voting for the 2008 Farm Bill and its lavish subsidies for the largest and wealthiest agribusiness operations failed to shield them from the Republican wave. At least15 Democratic members of the House Agriculture Committee lost, including ardent subsidy defenders Stephanie Herseth Sandlin of South Dakota and Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota. In all, 46 Democratic seats changed hands that rank in the top half of farm subsidy receiving congressional districts listed in EWG’s farm subsidy database. A loss of 39 seats was needed to flip the House, so the margin was more than given away in rural agriculture districts.

Go here to read the analysis and view EWG’s agriculture policy election maps:

The Democratic losses contrast with the fate of House Republicans from subsidy-heavy districts who survived the Democratic wave election of 2008 even though they voted against the 2008 bill, citing their commitment to cut federal spending and budget deficits. These included Ron Paul of Texas, whose district ranks 37th out of 435 in receipt of federal farm subsidies; Mike Pence of Indiana, whose district ranks 43rd; and Todd Tiahrt of Kansas, whose district ranks 54th.

As expected, Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, a champion of big government benefits for large-scale commodity producers in her state and chairwoman of the powerful Senate Agriculture Committee, was handily defeated in her reelection bid. Her loss follows past defeats of agriculture-minded Democrats in leadership positions such as former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota in 2004, Speaker of the House Tom Foley, former Secretary of Agriculture and Kansas Representative Dan Glickman in 1992, and former House Agriculture Committee member Charles Stenholm from Texas in 2004.

“Democratic incumbents’ support for outdated and expensive farm subsidies clearly wasn’t enough for rural voters when they made their choices on Election Day,” said Craig Cox, EWG senior vice-president. “If anything, this is a wake-up call that there is a negligible political benefit to toeing the subsidy lobby’s line.”

The 2008 Farm Bill debate was heavily influenced by a disparate coalition of groups, including taxpayer, hunger, nutrition and environmental advocates, that pushed to reform the current system of government payments that flows disproportionately to the largest growers of commodity crops such as corn and cotton. The reform effort was blunted in part by a Democratic House caucus that followed Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s political calculation of embracing the agribusiness agenda.

Wisconsin Democrat Ron Kind, who led reform efforts in the House in 2008, won his close race Tuesday.

“Republicans now in power in the House, including the presumptive new House leader, John Boehner, who voted against the 2008 Farm Bill, are in a position to finally reform farm subsidies, especially given their calls for less spending and smaller government,” Cox said.

“The first test of the new order in Washington will come in the lame duck session of Congress,” Cox added, “as Republicans, moderate Democrats, and the White House respond to the ethanol lobby’s demand for $6 billion per year in new subsidy spending.”

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EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment and can be found at

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