(Bloomberg) -- New York Mayor Bill de Blasio stepped away from the criticism in his hometown to engage curiosity in Iowa, making his first stop as a presidential candidate in the middle of farm country to demonstrate his interest in agricultural issues and take shots at President Donald Trump.
Asked how the mayor of the most populous city in the U.S. would connect with voters in rural Iowa, de Blasio said Iowans have the same aspirations as New Yorkers.
“It’s all about working people,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in Gowrie, Iowa, or New York City. In the end people should trust someone who has actually done something for working people, put money back in their hands, proved that government can be about working people, not just the 1%.”
De Blasio’s first stop was an ethanol plant in Gowrie, a town of about 1,000. The sprawling facility that towers over the prairie landscape employs 46 people and is designed to produce 69 million gallons of ethanol from about 24 million bushels of locally-grown corn a year.
De Blasio said he met with a local farmer who depends upon the plant to keep his farm solvent, and he said he would support producing more such facilities throughout America’s heartland.
“Time and again when there was an opportunity to help the biofuels industry to grow and create jobs in places like rural Iowa the Trump administration has favored big petroleum companies,” de Blasio told reporters. “I want to see a lot more farming communities to have these biofuel facilities. That’s not going to happen if the federal government keeps favoring the big petroleum industry.’’
The Trump administration’s waivers to let oil companies avoid requirements to use ethanol in fuel mixtures has created some tension with one of the president’s core constituencies: corn-belt farmers. Combined with tariff policies that have reduced exports of corn, soybeans and pork to China, the relaxation of ethanol minimums have hit farmers in Iowa particularly hard, making mounds of unsold corn piling up on rural roadsides a familiar sight. Democrats see the issues as ammunition against the president as he seeks re-election in 2020.
“He told working people in Iowa in rural areas he was going to be on their side and he socked them with tariffs that are destroying the rural economy,” de Blasio said. “He told working people he was going to do all sorts of things to put money in their pocket and he put money in the pockets only of wealthy people and corporations. He’s a con man, that’s why I call him Con Don.”
De Blasio this week became the 23rd Democrat to join the race for the party’s presidential nomination, putting him behind most other candidates in raising money and building a campaign organization. There are more than a dozen candidates, including fellow New Yorker Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, struggling to draw more than 1% in polls, well behind the two front-runners, former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
Iowa’s caucuses next February mark the start of the nomination contest, and voters in the state expect to be able to evaluate candidates in person.
“Iowa is unique. It’s not about throwing some money on TV and getting your message out with paid communication,” state Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price said. “You have to build a campaign infrastructure. You have to find precinct captains -- we have 1,679 precincts -- so it takes time.”
De Blasio has made several trips to Iowa over the years and has gotten to know some Iowans, Price said. “Folks are intrigued by the mayor, they have questions for him, they want to get to know him more.”
De Blasio’s presidential ambitions haven’t ignited much enthusiasm in New York. An April 3 Quinnipiac University poll found that 76% of city voters say he should not run. His negative job approval rating -- 42% to 44% -- doesn’t help, although he’s popular among 66% of New York’s black voters.
The mayor is sure to get questions about some of the negative coverage he’s gotten in New York, Price said. “But people will hear him out, give him an honest and fair hearing. They know if a candidate is trying to sell them a bill of goods.”
De Blasio’s next stop was Churdan, Iowa, where 10 of the town’s roughly 400 citizens gathered for coffee and cake at the century-old home of George Naylor, 71, an undecided voter who supported Bernie Sanders four years ago.
Naylor, a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, and his wife Patti, grow organic soy beans and corn. They joined the others in telling de Blasio that corporate farms were squeezing out family farmers, who need low-cost financing and other support to raise their crops profitably.
“I’m very impressed with his knowledge of the economy and his conviction that some big things need to change,’’ said Naylor, who’s farmed his family property for 42 years. “He is very concerned about working people, income inequality and the farm policy that we have.”
(Updates with 2nd stop beginning in 15th paragraph.)
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