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3 Jan, 2008 21:44

U.S. presidential candidates battle for hearts and minds of Iowa farmers

American Democratic and Republican presidential hopefuls are undergoing their first real test of public opinion. The Iowa Caucuses have opened – these are simultaneous meetings held across the state at which voters decide which of the contender

Iowa is the number one state in pork production. Many say pig politics symbolise an issue of national significance, namely big corporations vs. middle-class America, which is an issue that presidential candidates bring up even if it's only to garner support in many states across America. 

The number of large-scale hog factories in the state has exploded over the last few years, putting pressure on small farmers like Craig Hill. 

He started his business nearly 30 years ago but much has changed since then.

“Large operations have been very competitive. They have grown in size and in numbers and small operations like hours have dwindled. That's difficult. We know it's intense competition, but whether small or large, hog farms across the state face a similar challenge,” he says.

Opponents of large pig operations site environmental concerns, claiming the shelters can pose a risk to public health by having a detrimental effect on  air and water quality. 

As the first state to go, Iowa sets the tone for the rest of the campaign. Some say this alone can be a problem. 

“This is what's often referred to as the bandwagon effect – people like to support whoever has a chance of winning. The one concern you might have with the bandwagon effect is the issue of representativeness of Iowa voters,” believes Arthur B. Sanders, Professor at Duke University.

But Courtney Greene, press secretary of Iowa's governor says it's not an issue. 

“We don't have high numbers in terms of a racial component. But I think Iowans are educated and Iowans are concerned. And I think they take the the nation's first caucus very seriously,” says Greene.

Polls suggest a three-way battle between Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards for the Democrats.

In the Republican camp, the race is between Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney.

Even though Iowans take the caucus seriously, the farmers will be probably guided by issues  closer to their backyards rather than Iraq, immigration and same-sex marriages, which are some of the most cited issues the candidates campaign on.