By LINDA "L.J." JOHNSON
For the Capital Press
The red and blue highlighted U.S. map we see so frequently as election time nears can be disheartening for rural voters. They may rightly begin to wonder if rural votes make a difference in any race where metropolitan areas exist.
The answer is "yes."
For example, President George W. Bush won the rural vote in 2004 by 19 points. In 2008, President Barack Obama performed unusually well in rural areas, losing there to Sen. John McCain by just 8 points. That means 9 million rural voters cast their ballots for our current president.
During this election cycle both presidential candidates have frequently been seen in states that have large rural regions. Both are well aware that rural country roads are an important part of the road map that leads to the White House.
A recent poll for the Center for Rural Strategies showed 54 percent of rural voters favored candidate Mitt Romney. Obama knows he needs to win as many votes as he can in rural areas in 2012 to keep the margins tight again. Swing states that were polled are Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin.
The Senate is another battleground where rural votes matter. Control of the Senate may well be determined by rural voters in Indiana, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, North Dakota, Virginia and Wisconsin. All of these states are in the toss-up column according to most political pundits.
In 2010, two-thirds of the nation's most competitive House races were in rural America. Current polling shows that between 24 and 26 House seats are in the toss-up category and about 30 races are leaning to one party or the other.
Do you live in one of the states that will determine control of the House? They are Arizona, California (three seats), Colorado, Connecticut, Florida (two seats), Illinois (two seats), Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New York (four seats), Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas and Utah.
Eleven states have gubernatorial races this year. The rural vote is expected to make a big difference in three that are in the toss-up column: Montana, New Hampshire and Washington.
Do rural votes really make a difference? Just ask Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who faced a tough recall election earlier this year. While he lost the city vote, he won his recall election because of rural and other nonurban voters.
Just ask former Reps. Betsy Markey of Colorado, Debbie Halvorson of Illinois, Frank Kratovil of Maryland, John Boccierri of Ohio and Steve Kagen of Wisconsin if rural votes matter. They all lost their House seats in 2010.
Is the red-and-blue map disheartening? Maybe. It is a fact that Democrats normally pick up a big vote in the cities. And Republicans usually pick up a big vote in the suburbs. But the rest of the story is that the rural vote provides candidates from both parties the winning edge when the polls close.
So remember, every vote from rural America is important. Cast your vote for the candidates you want to represent you. It is your patriotic duty and in the end, you just might be the deciding vote.
Linda "L.J." Johnson is director of policy implementation programs at the American Farm Bureau Federation.