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Published: Friday, 11/3/2006

Farming provides fresh debate fodder

BY JIM TANKERSLEY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

REYNOLDSBURG, Ohio - U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine walked into the Ohio Department of Agriculture around noon and shot a smile at the reporters clustered a few tractor-lengths away.

"I'm glad to see the Ohio press corps is finally interested in land preservation," he said.

Mr. DeWine used a stop at the 7th Annual Ohio Farmland Preservation Summit to highlight his farm-saving work in the Senate - and to give journalists following the final days of his re-election campaign something to cover beyond taxes, terrorism, and Taiwan.

Mr. DeWine and his Democratic opponent, U.S. Rep. Sherrod Brown, have argued over a narrow set of issues for most of their nationally watched campaign.

They've criticized each other on Iraq, tax cuts, free trade, national security, and their work in Congress - including Mr. DeWine's charge, which his opponent disputes, that Mr. Brown has passed only four bills in the House, three of them relating to Taiwan.

In the process, the candidates have all but ignored several issues that have played more prominent roles in past Ohio campaigns, in other races across the country this year, or in the minds of specialized pockets of voters.

Mr. Brown and Mr. DeWine have rarely discussed immigration, the top issue in several races closer to the U.S.-Mexico border. They haven't broken a sweat over global warming and other environmental issues. And they've talked little about whether they'd consider military action to stop Iran's development of nuclear weapons.

Still, both candidates say it's important to campaign on both high and low-profile issues.

"Campaigns do a lot of things," Mr. Brown, who had no public events yesterday, said in a phone interview. "One of the things is educate people. I like to talk about issues to groups that don't know about them."

Some 200 experts - or experts-in-training - on farmland preservation put off their barbecue lunch to hear Mr. DeWine speak for 10 minutes yesterday.

Ohio lost nearly 7 million acres of farmland between 1950 and 2000, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Mr. DeWine told the crowd he helped local governments combat that by securing $400,000, as a member of the appropriations committee, for the Center for Farmland Policy Innovation.

"I care very passionately about it," he said afterward, "whether it changes [voters'] minds or not."

Mr. Brown said he supports farmland preservation, though he wasn't sure exactly how the federal government could help, and he criticized Mr. DeWine for supporting policies he said help large corporate farms at the expense of family farmers.

Incidentally - and perhaps this is why they're not talking about them - the candidates agree on immigration and global warming. Both support a "guest worker" program proposed by President Bush. Both say warming is real, it's bad, and that America must develop alternative fuels to combat it.

Mr. DeWine supports sanctions to pressure Iran to drop its nuclear program. Mr. Brown said the war in Iraq is complicating the Iran situation, and that he would leave military action against Tehran "on the table" if elected.

Contact Jim Tankersley at

jtankersley@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.



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