Ethanol blender pump (file photo). An Iowa State University professor says there’s no evidence, yet, that farmers decide to vote for a presidential candidate based solely on how they stand on the ethanol issue, but folks from both parties say in a close race in Iowa between John McCain and Barack Obama, the differences between the candidates on this issue could sway some votes.

Iowa State University political science professor, Steffen Schmidt, says energy, in general, is a big issue in this election.

“So then the question is: where does ethanol fit into this? McCain has flip-flopped on it terribly over the years and so he has a very ambiguous position, generally opposed to ethanol,” Schmidt says. “I think probably in the agricultural sector, among the ethanol industry which now really occupies a lot of people in Iowa, has a lot of investment, there could be a little bit of traction, but it’s probably not sort of the top issue on most voters’ minds.”

George Bush won Iowa eight years ago by just two-thousand votes; four years ago he won Iowa by just 10-thousand. Schmidt says in those kind of elections where every vote does matter, even a slight swing among voters who’re interested in the ethanol issue could prove significant.

“I think there are a number, maybe an even significant number of Iowa voters who would be interested in the issue of alternative fuels and especially of ethanol which frankly is pretty important to the state of Iowa,” Schmidt says. “It has contributed to the increase in farmers’ income and the price of commodities — biodiesel as well — so it’s not an insignificant piece of the Iowa economy and, therefore, Iowa politics.”

However, Schmidt says neither candidate seems to him to have an advantage in rural Iowa. “I think Barack Obama has a problem in that he’s not identified with agriculture at all and so, you know, if you have a choice between McCain and Barack Obama, neither of them are really agriculture-oriented, farmer-friendly and so on that one I think it’s a wash,” Schmidt says.

Iowa Ag Secretary Bill Northey, a Republican, says with many Iowans holding significant investments in ethanol plants or reaping the benefits of higher corn prices, John McCain may find it more difficult to win their votes because of his long-standing opposition to the tax advantage ethanol has at the pump.

Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, a Democrat, says another problem for McCain is his long-standing opposition to farm subsidies and his declaration that he would have vetoed the Farm Bill, just as President Bush did.