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Campaign heats up as Democratic hopefuls descend on Iowa

Family farmers share their woes with visiting Kerry

KLEMME, Iowa -- The summer presidential campaigning reaches a frenetic pace this week as most of the Democratic candidates converge on the first voting state with just over five months to go before the Iowa caucuses.

Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts visited hog lots in north central Iowa yesterday, highlighting the loss of family farms to huge commercial pork producers as he continued to hammer away at President Bush's supposed favoritism of big-business interests.

Senators Bob Graham of Florida and John Edwards of North Carolina are traveling across the state on family vacations that are doubling as campaign tours, with Graham stopping yesterday at the baseball field in Dyersville where the movie "Field of Dreams" was filmed.

Meanwhile, Representative Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri and Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut are to join the crowd at a pair of candidate forums in Des Moines today and tomorrow, while Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont, is set to continue his attention-grabbing campaign by playing harmonica tomorrow night at a Des Moines blues club.

As they visit the state's capital city, the candidates also plan stops at the Iowa State Fair, where they will vie for the attention of vacationing citizens more focused on arm-wrestling and swine and cattle judging than their pick for president in the bitter winter months ahead. The Iowa caucuses take place Jan. 19.

Kerry's New Balance running shoes belied his Northeastern roots, but he listened intently yesterday as a farmer and local activist complained about the proliferation of corporate hog lots in Iowa.

The state has been the nation's leading pork producer for 120 years. Today, it has the same number of hogs it had in 1914.

Over the past decade, pork buyers have paid higher prices for swine raised by large farmers than those raised by independent family farmers.

As a result of that, today more than 50 percent of hog ownership is concentrated in the hands of just 2 percent of farm owners. Local farmers expect that pork purchasers will ultimately buy the large farms, taking control of the entire industry from birth to slaughter.

Jim Braun of Latimer, a former family hog farmer, complained that such concentration harms the environment, while Gloria Goll of Klemme, who has been battling a corporate lot next to her farm, said it has hurt the local community by pitting families against each other.

"This is not the tractor replacing the horse. This is capitalization at its worst," said Braun.

Kerry offered a five-point plan that included a ban on meatpacker ownership of livestock and stricter enforcement of federal antitrust laws.

"The corporatization of farming in the state of Iowa, the big farmers, particularly the big hog owners, is destroying the ability of the family farmer to survive," Kerry said as he stood on a gravel road across the street from two 200-yard-long corrugated buildings.

Until February 2002, the buildings housed some 17,000 nursery pigs, outnumbering the 12,000 people who live in the surrounding area, Hancock County.

A producer is now trying to construct two more buildings that would house 4,600 sows and their piglets, each set of which would consume an estimated 35 gallons of water per day. The livestock also produces manure that can foul the local air and groundwater.

Earlier in the day, Kerry addressed about 100 Cerro Gordo County Democrats at the Rose Bowl bowling alley in Mason City, where he lashed out at Bush over everything from education and environmental policy to his conduct of foreign affairs.

"George Bush went to a nice, fancy high school like I did, but I came out of my fancy high school asking the question, `Why can't everybody have a school like this?' " said Kerry, a graduate of the prestigious St. Paul's School in Concord, N.H. (Bush graduated from Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass.)

"I think that's what we need in the United States: a president who understands that education is the great equalizer," Kerry said.

On the subject of national security, Kerry frequently referred to his service in the Vietnam War. He also made a veiled distinction from some of his rivals for the Democratic nomination by mentioning his long service on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and his consistent focus on international affairs.

"This is not a time, as President Bush has proven, for on-the-job training on national security," the senator said. "This is a time for someone who knows what they're doing and has experience . . . I do not believe this administration is making America safer with its blustering, arrogant, unilateralist foreign policy."

In a speech prepared for delivery today, Dean planned to hit on many of the same farming themes mentioned by Kerry during a speech proposing tax and investment aid for farmers, corn-based ethanol in all gasoline, and limits on giant farms.

"The destruction of the middle class and the widening gap between the rich and poor is being played out right before our eyes with the concentration of the agriculture industry," a text of Dean's speech provided to the Associated Press said.

Glen Johnson can be reached at johnson@globe.com.

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