Counting on the Rural Vote

Some Say America's Small Towns Could Be Key to White House

North Carolina Sen. John Edwards with supporters after a campaign rally Wednesday in Durant.

North Carolina Sen. John Edwards with supporters after a campaign rally Wednesday at Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant, Okla. Howard Berkes, NPR News hide caption

itoggle caption Howard Berkes, NPR News
A monument to the "World's Largest Peanut" outside city hall in Durant, Okla.

A monument to the "World's Largest Peanut" outside Durant's city hall. Peanuts used to be one of the biggest cash crops on some 500 farms around Durant. Now, only a few peanut farmers remain. Howard Berkes, NPR News hide caption

itoggle caption Howard Berkes, NPR News

Some political strategists believe the nation's most sparsely-populated places could determine who wins the White House in November. About 55 million people live in rural towns and counties, which cover 80 percent of the landscape. It is a dispersed but potent political force.

The day after the New Hampshire primary, many of the Democratic hopefuls flew south and west to the big cities. But North Carolina Sen. John Edwards headed for Durant, Okla., population 14,000, for a rally attended by cattle ranchers, peanut farmers, factory workers and students. As NPR's Howard Berkes reports in this snapshot of the rural vote, Edwards is among the candidates who hope the road to the White House goes through America's small towns.

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