PHILADELPHIA — A group called Rural for Hillary has been organized to begin campaign efforts on behalf of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in rural America.
The group is not formally affiliated with Clinton’s campaign, but held a two-hour closed-door session with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Tuesday here on the sidelines of the Democratic convention.
Vilsack then spoke to a crowd of several hundred agricultural lobbyists, some of them Republican, and Obama administration political appointees at the “Kick Up Your Heels with Ag” reception at the Union League Club in downtown Philadelphia. If elected, Clinton would listen to their concerns, he said.
“Hillary ... she listens. Donald Trump only listens to himself,” Vilsack. “When Hillary was in upstate New York, she listened,” Vilsack added. “She is a problem solver.”
National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson, who was master of ceremonies at the event, praised Vilsack's work over the past seven-plus years, calling Vilsack, the best Agriculture secretary "in my lifetime."
Though passed over for Clinton's running mate, Vilsack showed his continued support and prominence in the campaign Wednesday at the Democratic National Convention as he was seated next to former President Bill Clinton throughout the evening's speeches.
Speaking to the Democratic ag leaders, Vilsack also addressed immigration. “Everyone knows we have a broken immigration system,” he said. “That is a problem.”
Clinton favors the Renewable Fuel Standard, he said, “You can't trust Donald Trump on the RFS.”
Trump has an adviser who opposes the RFS, Vilsack noted, in an apparent reference to Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D.
Trump favored the RFS during the Iowa caucuses, but after consulting with Cramer said he would reconsider that position, and said he would consult with Iowa Republican Gov. Terry Branstad. Trump also is scheduled to campaign in Iowa on Thursday, according to Eric Branstad, the governor’s son, who is Trump’s Iowa campaign manager.
Vilsack also told the reception attendees that the reasons for voting against Trump are much bigger than agriculture.
“This election is the most important in my lifetime,” Vilsack said, adding that he considers the choice “stark,” partly because Trump “believes it is OK to bring torture back.”
The secretary also noted that when Clinton toured rural America she heard people talking about the scourge of opioid addiction and has promised to address that issue.
Vilsack told the attendees they should support Clinton “if you want a president who will listen, who will solve a problem.”
The Rural for Hillary effort has been organized to mount an outreach effort for Clinton in rural America. Organizers in Washington are Vicki Hicks, vice president for government affairs at AgriBank, and Trevor Dean, a former aide to Clinton when she was a senator from New York.
Hicks, an Oklahoma native, worked for the late Sen. Quentin Burdick, D-N.D., and served in the Agriculture Department during President Bill Clinton’s administration.
Dean also worked for Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., and is now a political appointee at the Transportation Department. A South Dakotan, Dean also worked for former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.
The initial organizers from around the country are:
Pam Johnson, farmer and past president of the National Corn Growers Association, Waterloo, Iowa.
Colleen Landkamer, rural advocate and past president of the National Association of Counties, Blue Earth County, Minn.
Ed King of King’s Ransom Farm, a dairy operation, Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
Lee Beaulac, rural development advocate and former chair of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, Naples, N.Y.
Roxiana Hurlburt, owner of Mercer’s dairy, makers of wine ice cream that is exported around the world, Rome, N.Y.
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