Democratic Candidates Storm Storm Lake Democratic presidential candidates made their pitch to rural voters at a gathering in Storm Lake, Iowa.
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Democratic Candidates Storm Storm Lake

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Democratic Candidates Storm Storm Lake

Democratic Candidates Storm Storm Lake

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Democratic presidential hopefuls are in heartland America this weekend, making their case to rural voters in the small town of Storm Lake, Iowa. It's part of a broader push by Democrats to make inroads in traditionally Republican strongholds ahead of the 2020 election. NPR's Don Gonyea was there.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: This is northwest Iowa - deep red Republican country. But yesterday the stage was set for a group of Democrats for something billed as the Heartland Forum. There is an increasingly crowded field of Democrats in the race for president. Four of those officially running accepted the invite to attend.

It was not a debate. The candidates took turns on stage taking questions from a trio of journalists and from the audience. There was Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Amy Klobuchar, former cabinet secretary and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and former Congressman John Delaney. Warren was first on stage. In an opening statement, she tackled small-farm economics and the impact of big corporate farming and ag industry mergers.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEARTLAND FORUM)

ELIZABETH WARREN: You've got these giant corporations that are making bigger and bigger profits for themselves, for their executives, for their investors. And they're putting the squeeze on family farms, on small farms.

GONYEA: When Amy Klobuchar, who's from neighboring Minnesota, took the stage, she said anti-trust laws need to be rewritten to protect small farms. She talked about President Trump's trade policies, tariffs he imposed against China and the retaliatory tariffs by the Chinese on U.S. farm commodities.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEARTLAND FORUM)

AMY KLOBUCHAR: We've had a situation of the weather being bad. We've had some of the lowest profits for agriculture - at least in my state - since the 1980s. And I know that Iowa is experiencing this too. And while I'm glad that the administration decided to get that 12 billion set aside to make up for these trade wars, that's not the same as actually selling things, right?

GONYEA: Now to Julian Castro, he was asked about balancing environmental concerns with farming. He said it's about the choices the government makes in the tax code and on where to invest.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEARTLAND FORUM)

JULIAN CASTRO: Family farms can thrive and that you can have clean air and clean water no matter where you live, including in rural America.

(APPLAUSE)

GONYEA: On immigration, Castro spoke of his grandmother coming to the U.S. from Mexico. The fourth candidate to speak was John Delaney of Maryland. He's still little-known, though he's been actively campaigning for almost two years already. Delaney spoke of his proposal, labeled the Heartland Fair Deal. In it, he too calls for much greater investment in rural areas.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEARTLAND FORUM)

JOHN DELANEY: Capital has left this region. That doesn't mean people don't invest here. They do. But the owners of that capital are often not located here anymore like they used to be.

GONYEA: Overall, the list of topics covered also included mental health, farmer suicides, climate change, rural school funding, student loan debt and more. Sixty-four-year-old Chris Petersen (ph) is a lifelong family farmer from Clear Lake, and he's a Democrat. He says the party needs to talk more about all of these things.

CHRIS PETERSEN: Democratic Party, we got to talk about health care access. Rural hospitals are closing up. Everything is bad right now. And I tell you what. The Democrats need to stand up.

GONYEA: Like some others, Petersen wishes more candidates had come but added that holding the event is a good sign that the party may pay more attention to rural America in the 2020 campaign. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Storm Lake.

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