Midterms: President Donald Trump heads to soybean country hoping to reassure farmers hit by tariffs

Maureen Groppe

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump is traveling to corn and soybean country Saturday to make the case before the midterm elections that his administration has been good for farmers, USA TODAY has learned.

Trump is scheduled to address the Future Farmers of America's annual convention in Indianapolis, according to a White House official.

Indiana – which has both benefited and been hurt by Trump's tariffs and other nations' retaliatory response – is also where one of the nation's closest Senate races is being fought.

Other agriculture-heavy states, including Missouri and North Dakota, also have competitive races that will help decide if Republicans hold onto their slim Senate majority. 

"Missouri farmers and ranchers aren’t very happy with the tariffs," said Kenneth Warren, a political science professor at St. Louis University.

And many close House races are in districts that are home to major soybean farms, primarily in the Midwest.

Donald Trump

In fact, after speaking at the FFA convention Saturday, Trump plans a rally in southern Illinois to boost Rep. Mike Bost, a member of the House Agriculture Committee and a top Democratic target this year.

After Trump imposed his steep steel and aluminum tariffs on China, U.S. Steel – the nation’s second-largest steel producer – announced it would restart furnaces at its plant in Bost's district. 

The tariffs were mainly aimed at curbing imports from China. But Beijing has retaliated with tariffs on crops and other U.S. products. 

Trump has urged farmers to "just be a little patient," assuring them that they will come out ahead in the end.

In Indiana's Senate race, GOP challenger Mike Braun has put himself in the "trust Trump" camp.

"To secure long-term competitive advantage for America, President Trump is right that we must rectify the longstanding inequities in our trade relationships," Braun told IndyStar.

Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly has long been a supporter of "measured and precise" tariffs against China to help the steel industry. But he says Trump administration policies have "gone too far and are turning farmers and manufacturers into collateral damage."

"Hoosier farmers have increasing concerns that the uncertainty created by the administration’s current trade policy is driving the price of crops like soybeans below the cost of production, potentially ruining their livelihoods," he said.

Indiana is the top steel-producing state in the country, but it's also the most manufacturing intensive state, a leading producer of automobile and truck parts that rely on cheap steel and aluminum. More than half of soybeans grown in Indiana are sold to foreign countries.

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce, which traditionally endorses Republican candidates, opposes tariffs and did not endorse a candidate in this U.S. Senate race.

Last month, a newly formed coalition of more than 80 trade associations launched a multi-million-dollar campaign against tariffs.

Called Tariffs Hurt the Heartland, the campaign highlights the negative impact of tariffs on businesses and the benefits of international trade to the U.S. economy. 

The Trump administration has promised to direct $12 billion to farmers who have been hurt by slipping prices for soybeans, pork and other crops hit with retaliatory tariffs from China.

Eighteen percent of voters listed trade wars and 17 percent cited tariffs among the issues that concern them the most in a national survey conducted in late August and early September. Health care, education and infrastructure were the top issues on the minds of voters surveyed by the Alliance for American Manufacturing.

Even in places such as Iowa, the center of the farm belt, tariffs and trade are not the dominant issues on voters’ minds. Iowans listed health care and education as the most important issues for the next governor to address in a Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll released last month.

But Democrats are still using it to try to score points against Republicans.

In North Dakota, a campaign ad for Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp features a farmer standing in a soybean field and talking about the toll Trump’s tariffs took on his family.

In Iowa’s governor’s race, the Democratic challenger, Fred Hubbell, accused Republican incumbent Kim Reynolds of defending Trump – and not farmers. 

Even the Chinese have tried to capitalize on the politics of trade.

Late last month, a Chinese government-run media company placed a four-page supplement in the Sunday Des Moines Register plugging the benefits of U.S.-Chinese trade. Trump accused the Chinese of meddling in the upcoming midterm elections.