Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, whose story goes back to Pittsburgh by way of Terrace Hill, the Iowa governor's mansion, tried to fire up Pennsylvania Democrats, a predominantly urban party, with a pitch for the rural vote.
At the first of the state delegation's speakers-over-easy breakfasts, Mr. Vilsack reminded the crowd of his roots as he told them that his grandfather was the founder of the original Iron City Brewery. Moving on to his current gig, Mr. Vilsack made the case that the Obama administration is the best friend farmer ever had.
"I'm here not to talk about Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, as important as they are, but to talk about the middle of the state,'' he said. "This president has invested more in rural America and rural Pennsylvania than any previous president,'' he added, citing federal aid for programs such as rural housing, and agricultural export assistance. The result, he said, had been record farm incomes even in the face of the drought that has battered much of the Midwest.
"They can try to suppress the vote in Pennsylvania; they can try,'' he said. "[But] we have an opportunity to do very vey well in rural areas.''
He recited the history of the comprehensive farm bill that failed to clear the last session of Congress. He blamed Republicans, saying that key figures including Hose Speaker John Boehner and House Budget Chairman and vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan want to strip more money from key areas including nutrition assistance.
By making that case in rural communities, he said, Democrats have an unusual opportunity to made inroads in the proverbial "T,'' the counties through the state's midsection and across its northern tier.
"I'm going to be watching those results in the central part of a Pennsylvania,'' he said of the November election. "I think we can take the central part of Pennsylvania and you know, if we do, we take Pennsylvania.''
The agriculture secretary may have a good story to tell, but If Mr. Vilsack meant that prediction literally, he may have been drinking too much of his grandfather's product. Even while winning a Pennsylvania landslide in 2008, President Obama was consistently trailing Sen. John McCain throughout the state's midsection.
Still, in the new era of voter ID, which Democrats perceive as a thinly disguised voter suppression scheme, they're worried about their vote totals in the urban strongholds. It's tougher to argue with the logic, if not the likelihood, of Mr. Vilsack's observation that rural votes have at least the potential to take the pressure off Pittsburgh and Philadelphia for the Democrats.