But the gathering wasn’t merely social.
As a DJ blared Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love” over the sound system, the crowd of mostly African-American women pulled out their cell phones, logged into an online voter-outreach tool called Relay and began a texting marathon. In a little more than two hours, they had reached 65,000 infrequent African-American voters in a swath of rural Georgia, known as the Black Belt.
Their messages warned of purges of African-American residents from the voting rolls and urged support for Stacey Abrams, the Georgia Democrat who’s vying to make history as the nation’s first black female governor.
This brunch and a crop of other quasi-social events organized around the country by the two-year-old Color of Change PAC seek to drive black turnout in key states. That includes Georgia, where African-Americans make up nearly 31% of the population but, like many voters, sit out off-year elections in droves.
The event also illustrates how a little-known but growing network of African-American political groups is laboring behind the scenes to reshape who will vote in the midterms and engineer what Color of Change’s executive director, Arisha Hatch, hopes will become a “black wave” that sweeps Abrams and other Democrats into power.
Their ultimate goal: build lasting political clout for African Americans, especially in the South, where more than half of the nation’s black residents live. To do so, they will have to defy history and permanently change decades of voting behavior.
Faced with a “bigoted and destructive agenda” in Washington, “black voters are seeing this as a transformative moment for the country,” said Adrianne Shropshire, who runs BlackPAC, a two-year-old political action committee.
“They are using their votes as their resistance,” she said.
BlackPAC, which helped boost turnout for winning Democrats last year in Virginia and Alabama, is now spending $8 million in the final sprint to Election Day to target African-American voters with radio ads and mailers in Georgia and nine other states.
Stacey Abrams could forge a new path for Democrats in the Old South

Other groups working to change the complexion of the midterm electorate include PowerPAC Georgia, a group affiliated with San Francisco lawyer and veteran Democratic strategist Steve Phillips, which is plowing in $5 million to help turn out 100,000 infrequent African-American voters who live outside the metro Atlanta area. Collective PAC, which bills itself as the EMILY’s List for black candidates, is launching a national text-messaging program to reach about 2 million African-American voters in at least five states, including Florida and Mississippi.
The Black Economic Alliance, a group started in this election cycle by African-American executives, is spending $2.6 million in a last-minute voter-mobilization push in 15 federal and state races. Color of Change PAC, whose financial backers include labor unions and Democratic billionaire Tom Steyer, plans to spend about $5 million to reach 1 million black voters.
And a coalition of African-American groups, led by the Black Women’s Roundtable is trying to mobilize at least 150,000 black women to vote in Georgia.
Several of these groups, including BlackPAC and Collective PAC, came to life in 2016, as African-American political operatives prepared for the end of Barack Obama’s presidency and a new era in American politics.
Quentin James — who co-founded Collective PAC with his wife, former Obama campaign aide Stefanie Brown-James — said he also wanted to help turn the energy feeding Black Lives Matter protests into something more durable: greater political representation.
“People are saying, ‘I don’t just want to protest. I want to run. I want a seat at the table to make the change,’ ” he said.

“Hidden” figures

Black turnout helped swing two high-profile contests — the battles for a US Senate seat in Alabama and Virginia governor — to Democrats last year.
Exit polls in Alabama’s special election for the Senate found that 98% of black women who voted in that election backed Democrat Doug Jones, helping him beat Republican Roy Moore to become Alabama’s first Democratic US senator in a quarter-century.
Those voters and the black female activists who got them to the polls sparked comparisons from political commentators and late-night comedians alike to the little-known black female number-crunchers at NASA whose work, chronicled in the book and 2016 movie “Hidden Figures,” helped the space agency achieve some of its biggest early accomplishments.
Now some of these strategists believe they could use the Alabama template to achieve something even bigger next month, when Abrams and two other African-Americans, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum in Florida and former NAACP chief Ben Jealous in Maryland, compete in governors’ races.
Like Georgia, the contest in Florida is highly competitive.
A recent CNN poll found Gillum 12 points ahead of his Republican rival, former US Rep. Ron DeSantis.
Meanwhile, in the Republican stronghold of Mississippi, another African-American candidate, former congressman and US Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy, is on the Nov. 6 ballot in a three-way US Senate race. Strategists in both parties say the contest, in a state with the highest percentage of black residents in the country, could end in a late-November runoff.
“We are in a special moment,” said LaTosha Brown, the co-founder of Black Voters Matter, who worked on the Alabama race and now is leading a bus tour, dubbed “The South is Rising,” to mobilize African-American voters in Georgia and other states.
“I see black excellence when I see a Stacey Abrams, a Mike Espy, an Andrew Gillum,” she said in a telephone interview. “These are the candidates I have been praying for.”
Republicans say it’s unlikely these organizations can replicate the special election in Alabama, where Jones’ rival, Roy Moore, faced accusations of sexual abuse. “All the controversy surrounding Judge Moore is what won that election,” said Jason Thompson, a GOP national committeeman from Georgia.
“It’s not organic,” he said of the activity by groups flooding his state on Abrams’ behalf. “I don’t think it’s going to have an effect on people.”
The new African-American organizations say they expect to make gains with activism that extend far beyond the marquee races of the midterms.
Brown, for instance, is advocating for a referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot in Nashville that would create a civilian-led board to review police actions.
The Color of Change PAC is mobilizing voters to influence local prosecutor races around the country amid concerns about excessive police force. Wesley Bell, a Ferguson, Missouri, city council member who received support from Color of Change and the Collective PAC, in August toppled longtime St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch in the Democratic primary.
McCulloch had faced intense scrutiny over his handling of the investigation into the 2014 fatal shooting by a white officer of a black teenager named Michael Brown in Ferguson.

Georgia as ground zero

But for many of the activists, Georgia is ground zero in the battle to expand the midterm electorate.
They face rough terrain.
Georgia hasn’t elected a Democratic governor in two decades. President Donald Trump won the state in 2016 by 5 percentage points.
Abrams’ supporters hope the state’s growing racial and ethnic diversity and substantial investments by voter-outreach groups, including the New Georgia Project founded by Abrams in 2013, will pay off next month — and translate into electoral competitiveness in the 2020 White House battle.
“If Abrams wins or even comes close, I think it confirms the view that some of us have held for a while: that Georgia is becoming a swing state and that in the not-distant future … could be up for grabs in the presidential election,” said Alan Abramowitz, an Emory University political scientist.
But Chip Lake, a veteran Republican strategist in Georgia, said Abrams and her allies face stiff headwinds, in part because she’s vying to succeed a popular figure in Georgia, two-term Republican Gov. Nathan Deal.
“Voters are really happy with the direction of state government,” he said. “All things being equal, this is still a red state right now.”
Less than two weeks before Election Day, the campaign between Abrams, a former Democratic leader of the George House, and her Republican rival, Secretary of State Brian Kemp, is neck-and-neck, raising the possibility that the race won’t be decided next month.
A third candidate, Libertarian Ted Metz, trails far behind but could have a big impact on the outcome. If no candidate wins a majority on Nov. 6, the contest goes to a Dec. 4 runoff between the top two finishers.
The race has been rocked repeatedly by allegations of voter suppression, and those battles spilled into the candidates’ first televised debate. Abrams argued that Kemp had “suppressed” voting and “scared” Georgians from the polls during his tenure as the state’s election chief.
Kemp said he actually had lowered barriers. “We have a million more people on our voters’ rolls today than we had when I took office,” he said during Tuesday’s faceoff.
Voting access remained a flashpoint for the groups trying to drive African-American turnout.
In an incident that quickly went viral, Brown’s Black Voters Matter bus was stopped on the first day of in-person early voting from taking a group of African-American seniors to vote in Jefferson County, Georgia. A county administrator told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he felt uncomfortable letting patrons of the county-run senior center leave with an “unknown third party.”
Brown said the episode seemed to make the seniors, and other African-American voters who heard about it, only more determined to cast their ballots.
Brown said one of the older women forced off the bus that day later told her: ” ‘Baby, I got off that bus and went and got in my car and picked up my friend and both of us went and voted.’ “
“So that one vote turned into two votes,” Brown said. “We transformed what would have been a very devastating moment into a moment of empowerment.”
So far, early voting is skyrocketing in Georgia.
Nearly three times as many people had cast ballots as of Friday afternoon as had during the same period in the 2014 midterm elections, according to statistics compiled by Georgia Votes, a privately run website tracking voting data. African-American voters accounted for 29.3% of the total.

Texting while dancing

Patricia Benjamin-Young, 51, said she had cast her ballot on the very first day of in-person early voting to ensure nothing got in the way of her support for Abrams.
Nearly a week later, encouraged by members of her church, the corporate auditor joined Color of Change’s brunch and sent her very first peer-to-peer political texts.
In all, she communicated with about 30 people. Only one texted back “STOP,” she said. One had voted already, and several others said they wanted to cast their ballots on Election Day.
“I felt good about knowing that people are getting out and are registered to vote,” she said.
Benjamin-Young also had a little fun, joining dozens of other participants who clutched their phones and continued texting while dancing the electric slide. Other attendees posed for photos against a wall adorned with pink paper flowers.
Organizers encouraged the party atmosphere.
“Voter engagement in many states has become incredibly transactional,” said Hatch of the Color of Change PAC. “Lots of folks hear from the candidates or hear from the party a week before the election, two weeks before the election, and they never hear from them again.”
Hatch said her group instead wants to build a community of activists who will stay engaged after Nov. 6 in places like Georgia. “We are trying to make volunteering fun and build that muscle within families.”
Erica Waverly, a 38-year-old union organizer, said politics runs in her blood. At age 3, she had already joined her father and five siblings on the streets of Birmingham, Alabama, to distribute sample ballots.
Now living outside Atlanta, Waverly brought her young daughters, Esa and Eri, to the text-a-thon “as a way of continuing the tradition,” she said.
She expressed little doubt that Abrams would prevail, despite the ongoing battles over voting access.
“They’ll be able to see the first black president in their lifetimes and the first black woman governor of Georgia and the country,” she said as her girls ran around the conference center lobby, clanging a plastic toy cowbell. “It’s a pretty awesome time to be alive right now.”

(CNN) — “There is no love sincerer than the love of food,” George Bernard Shaw said. Judging by the number of amazing dishes out there, he was right.

But which are the tastiest? Which are the best foods? And what are destinations that serve them?
We’ve scoured the planet for what we think are 50 of the most delicious foods ever created. For now, feast your eyes and control your drooling, as we reveal some of the world’s best foods that can help you make travel plans:

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50. Buttered popcorn, United States

Taking a love of popcorn to a new level.

Taking a love of popcorn to a new level.

Stephen Chernin/Getty Images North America/Getty Images

Corn — the workhorse of the industrial world — is best when its sweet variety is fried up with lashings of butter till it bursts and then snarfed in greasy fistfuls while watching Netflix late at night.

49. Masala dosa, India

The world's best pancake?

The world’s best pancake?

Courtesy McKay Savage/Creative Commons/Flickr

A crispy, rice-batter crepe encases a spicy mix of mashed potato, which is then dipped in coconut chutney, pickles, tomato-and-lentil-based sauces and other condiments. It’s a fantastic breakfast food that’ll keep you going till lunch, when you’ll probably come back for another.

48. Potato chips, United Kingdom

crisps

Potato chips — you can never have just one!

Courtesy Kate Ter Haar/Creative Commons/Flickr

It’s unclear when and where the potato chip was born — US legend has it that they were invented in New York in 1853, but the earliest known recipe for “Potatoes Fried in Slices or Shavings” appears in a bestselling 1817 cookbook by Englishman William Kitchiner.

Whatever the case, they’re now one of the world’s most child-friendly and best foods. But think of them this way — if a single chip cost, say, $5, it’d be a far greater (and more popular) delicacy than caviar, a prize worth fighting wars over.

47. Seafood paella, Spain

The embodiment of Spanish cuisine.

The embodiment of Spanish cuisine.

Boca

The sea is lapping just by your feet, a warm breeze whips the tablecloth around your legs and a steamy pan of paella sits in front of you. Shrimp, lobster, mussels and cuttlefish combine with white rice and various herbs, oil and salt in this Valencian dish to send you immediately into holiday mode. Though if you have it in Spain, you’re probably there already.

46. Som tam, Thailand

A traditional Thai dish you can't resist.

A traditional Thai dish you can’t resist.

Courtesy Jessica Spengler/Creative Commons/Flickr

To prepare Thailand‘s most famous salad, pound garlic and chilies with a mortar and pestle. Toss in tamarind juice, fish sauce, peanuts, dried shrimp, tomatoes, lime juice, sugar cane paste, string beans and a handful of grated green papaya. Grab a side of sticky rice. Variations include those made with crab (som tam boo) and fermented fish sauce (som tam plah lah), but none matches the flavor and simple beauty of the original.

45. Chicken rice, Singapore

Singapore taking "moreish" to the next level.

Singapore taking “moreish” to the next level.

Courtesy Madeleine Deaton/Creative Commons/Flickr

Often called the “national dish” of Singapore, this steamed or boiled chicken is served atop fragrant oily rice, with sliced cucumber as the token vegetable. Variants include roasted chicken or soy sauce chicken. However it’s prepared, it’s one of Singapore’s best foods. The dipping sauces — premium dark soy sauce, chili with garlic and pounded ginger — give it that little extra oomph to ensure whenever you’re not actually in Singapore eating chicken rice, you’re thinking of it.

44. Poutine, Canada

Poutine Festival

It sounds bad, it doesn’t look great, but it tastes delicious!

Courtesy PoutineFest

French fries smothered in cheese curds and brown gravy. Sounds kind of disgusting, looks even worse, but engulfs the mouth in a saucy, cheesy, fried-potato mix that’ll have you fighting over the last dollop. Our Canadian friends insist it’s best enjoyed at 3 a.m. after “several” beers.

43. Tacos, Mexico

A fresh, handmade tortilla stuffed with small chunks of grilled beef rubbed in oil and sea salt then covered with guacamole, salsa, onions, cilantro or anything else you want — perfect for breakfast, lunch or dinner. This is the reason no visitor leaves Mexico weighing less than when they arrived.
People enjoy tacos from Tokyo to Tulum and they’ve found unique ways of making this handy snack. Video by Black Buddha

42. Buttered toast with Marmite, UK

Divisive but irresistible (for most of us).

Divisive but irresistible (for most of us).

Courtesy SteveR-/Creative Commons/Flickr

OK, anything buttered is probably going to taste great, but there’s something about this tangy, salty, sour, love-it-or-hate-it yeast extract that turns a piece of grilled bread into a reason to go on living. For extra yum (or yuck) factor, add a layer of marmalade.

41. Stinky tofu, Southeast Asia

When it smells horrendous but tastes delicious ...

When it smells horrendous but tastes delicious …

Courtesy Toby Oxborrow/Creative Commons/Flickr

Nothing really prepares you for the stench of one of the strangest dishes on earth. Like durian, smelly tofu is one of Southeast Asia’s most iconic foods. The odor of fermenting tofu is so overpowering many aren’t able to shake off the memory for months. So is the legendarily divine taste really worth the effort? Sure it is.

40. Marzipan, Germany

Germany's best sweet treat.

Germany’s best sweet treat.

Courtesy Alpha/Creative Commons/Flickr

Don’t be fooled by cheap imitations, which use soy paste or almond essence. The real stuff, which uses nothing but ground almonds with sugar, is so good, you’ll eat a whole bar of it, feel sick, and still find yourself toying with the wrapper on bar number two.

30 best condiments

A trusted sauce: Ketchup.

Richard Heathcote/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images

39. Ketchup, United States

If Malcolm Gladwell says it’s a perfect food, then it’s a perfect food. Let’s face it, anything that can convince two-year-olds to eat their carrots rather than spitting them onto the floor is worthy of not just a “delicious” title, but a “miracle of persuasion” title, too.

38. French toast, Hong Kong

A measly 500 calories is all this bad boy will cost you.

A measly 500 calories is all this bad boy will cost you.

Courtesy Connie Ma/Creative Commons/Flickr

Unlike its more restrained Sunday brunch counterpart, Hong Kong-style French toast is like a deep-fried hug. Two pieces of toast are slathered with peanut butter or kaya jam, soaked in egg batter, fried in butter and served with still more butter and lots of syrup. A Hong Kong best food, best enjoyed before cholesterol checks.

37. Chicken parm, Australia

Australians have put their own stamp on chicken parmigiana.

Australians have put their own stamp on chicken parmigiana.

Courtesy shirley binn/creative commons/flickr

Melted Parmesan and mozzarella cheese, and a peppery, garlicky tomato sauce drizzled over the top of a chicken fillet — Aussie pub-goers claim this ostensibly Italian dish as their own. Since they make it so well, there’s no point in arguing.

36. Hummus, Middle East

The whole world loves this chickpea spread.

The whole world loves this chickpea spread.

joseph eid/getty images/CNN

This humble Middle Eastern spread, made with chickpeas, garlic, lemon juice and tahini has become a fridge staple all around the world. This tangy treat tastes good as a dip, with breads, with meats, with vegetables, beans or — hear us out — on a Marmite rice cake.

35. Chili crab, Singapore

Singaporeans drench crab in a spicy tomato gravy.

Singaporeans drench crab in a spicy tomato gravy.

Courtesy May Wong/Creative Commons/Flickr

You can’t visit Singapore without trying its spicy, sloppy, meaty specialty. While there are dozens of ways to prepare crab (with black pepper, salted egg yolk, cheese-baked, et cetera) chili crab remains the local bestseller. Spicy chili-tomato gravy tends to splatter, which is why you need to mop everything up with mini mantou buns.

34. Maple syrup, Canada

Maple syrup is made from the sap of maple trees.

Maple syrup is made from the sap of maple trees.

Courtesy Raffi Asdourian/Creative Commons/Flickr

Ever tried eating a pancake without maple syrup? It’s like eating a slice of cardboard. Poorly prepared cardboard. In fact, Canada’s gift to parents everywhere — throw some maple syrup on the kid’s broccoli and see what happens — makes just about anything worth trying. Pass the cardboard, please.

33. Fish ‘n’ chips, UK

Fish and chips -- not just for Fridays.

Fish and chips — not just for Fridays.

MJ Kim/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images

Anything that’s been around since the 1860s can’t be doing much wrong. The staple of the Victorian British working class is a crunchy-outside, soft-inside dish of simple, un-adorned fundamentals.

32. Ankimo, Japan

So, who’s up for a chunk of monkfish liver with a little grated daikon on the side? Thought not — still, you’re missing out on one of sushi’s last great secrets, the prized ankimo. The monkfish/anglerfish that unknowingly bestows its liver upon upscale sushi fans is threatened by commercial fishing nets damaging its sea-floor habitat, so it’s possible ankimo won’t be around for much longer. If you do stumble across the creamy, yet oddly light delicacy anytime soon, consider a taste — you won’t regret trying one of the best foods in Japan.

31. Parma ham, Italy

Parma ham -- a staple of Italian cooking.

Parma ham — a staple of Italian cooking.

GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP/AFP/Getty Images

You see it folded around melon, wrapped around grissini, placed over pizza, heaped over salad. There’s good reason for that: these salty, paper-thin slices of air-dried ham lift the taste of everything they accompany to a higher level.

30. Goi cuon (summer roll), Vietnam

Summer rolls: Light, refreshing and wholesome.

Summer rolls: Light, refreshing and wholesome.

Courtesy Ducson Nguyen

This snack made from pork, shrimp, herbs, rice vermicelli and other ingredients wrapped in rice paper is served at room temperature. It’s “meat light,” with the flavors of refreshing herbs erupting in your mouth. Dipped in a slightly sweet Vietnamese sauce laced with ground peanuts, it’s wholesome, easy and the very definition of “moreish.”

29. Ohmi-gyu beef steak, Japan

This premium Japanese Wagyu beef from famed Takara Ranch has been recognized by the Imperial Palace of Japan as one of the greatest beef stocks to be raised in the past 400 years. Called the “Rolls-Royce” of beef, it’s best eaten sashimi style, anointed with a drizzle of kaffir lime and green tea sea salt. Marbled fat gives each mouthful texture as the beef melts away, leaving a subtle but distinctly classic beef flavor.

28. Pho, Vietnam

Pho is a noodle soup and a pillar of Vietnamese cooking.

Pho is a noodle soup and a pillar of Vietnamese cooking.

Courtesy Rory MacLeod/Creative Commons/Flickr

This oft-mispronounced national dish (“fuh” is correct) is just broth, fresh rice noodles, a few herbs and usually chicken or beef. But it’s greater than the sum of its parts — fragrant, tasty and balanced.

27. Lechón, Philippines

Lechón is Spanish for suckling pig.

Lechón is Spanish for suckling pig.

Courtesy Lemuel Cantos/Creative Commons/Flickr

A Filipino national dish, lechón is a whole young pig slow-roasted over charcoal for several hours. The process makes for tender meat and crispy skin. It’s prepared on special occasions throughout the year.

26. Fajitas, Mexico

A staple of Tex-Mex cuisine.

A staple of Tex-Mex cuisine.

Courtesy Denis Dervisevic/Creative Commons/Flickr

This assembly kit of a dining experience is a thrill to DIY enthusiasts everywhere. Step 1: Behold the meat sizzling on a fiery griddle. Step 2: Along with the meat, throw side servings of capsicum, onion, guacamole, sour cream and salsa into a warm, flour tortilla. Step 3: Promise all within hearing range that you’ll have “just one more.” Step 4: Repeat.

25. Butter garlic crab, India

As hot and as tasty as it looks.

As hot and as tasty as it looks.

Courtesy Jun Selta/Creative Commons/Flickr

This one claims no roots in Chinese, Continental or Indian cuisines. It comes from Butter Land, an imaginary best foods paradise balanced on the premise that anything tastes great with melted butter. This delicious, simple dish is made by drowning a large crab in a gallon of butter-garlic sauce, which seeps into every nook and cranny and coats every inch of flesh. The sea gods of Butter Land are benevolent carnivores and this, their gift to the world, is their signature dish.

24. Champ, Ireland

Irish national dish champ goes down faster than the first pint of Guinness on a Friday night. Mashed potato with spring onions, butter, salt and pepper, champ is the perfect side with any meat or fish. For the textbook plate of creamy goodness, we suggest the busiest pub in any Irish seaside town. Around noon somehow feels right.

23. Lasagna, Italy

So good, they gave it many levels.

So good, they gave it many levels.

pinch of yum

Second only to pizza in the list of famed Italian foods, there’s a reason this pasta-layered, tomato-sauce-infused, minced-meaty gift to kids and adults alike is so popular — it just works.

22. Poke, US

Poke has its origins on the streets of Hawaii - now it's has gone global.

Poke has its origins on the streets of Hawaii – now it’s has gone global.

Courtesy takaokun/creative commons/flickr

This iconic Hawaiian appetizer is a raw fish salad — it originated when local fishermen were looking for use for the cut-offs from their catches.

The fish is seasoned in different ways — so it’s a delicious but also healthy dish. The meal has now spread to the mainland — and across the globe.

21. Croissant, France

Croissants in France

The French croissant: Le petit dejeuner of champions.

CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP/Getty Images

Flaky pastry smothered in butter, a pile of raspberry jam smeared over the top and a soft, giving bite as you sink in your teeth; there’s nothing not to love about this fatty, sweet breakfast food that must be married to a cup of strong coffee.

20. Arepas, Venezuela

Corn-dough patties topped with tastiness.

Corn-dough patties topped with tastiness.

JUAN BARRETO/AFP/AFP/Getty Images

A corn-dough patty that provides a savory canvas onto which you can paint any number of delicious toppings: cheese, shredded chicken, crisped pork skin, perico, beef, tomato, avocado.

19. Bunny chow, South Africa

bunny chow

It’s said the best bunny chow is found in Durban.

CNN Inside Africa

Despite the name, no rabbits are harmed in the making of one of South Africa’s best-loved street foods. Bunny chow is hollowed-out half- or quarter-loaves of white bread filled with super-spicy curry. The dish originated in Durban’s Indian community.

18. Shish kebab

It's as if sunny Sunday afternoons were created just for sizzlers.

It’s as if sunny Sunday afternoons were created just for sizzlers.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images North America/Getty Images

Pick your meat, shove a stick through it, grill. These cubes of deliciousness — most often lamb, but also beef, swordfish and chicken — are enjoyed with rice and vegetables and are the perfect addition to your summer barbecue.

17. Lobster, global

Every summer, lobsterman Tom Martin shares his love of the sea with visitors to Maine.

Forget all your fancy, contrived lobster dishes deployed by showoff chefs eager for Michelin endorsement. When you have a best food as naturally delicious as these little fellas, keep it simple. The best way to enjoy lobster is simply to boil it and serve with a side of melted butter and slice of lemon.

16. Pastel de nata, Portugal

Pastel de Nata (Cream Custard Tart)

Rich flaky pastry and soft trembling custard.

Nuno Correia

Pastel de natas are perhaps the world’s tastiest laundry by-product. Legend has it that Portuguese nuns and monks, having used egg whites to starch their religious clothing, used the leftover yolks to make pastries, including these sinfully delicious custard tarts.

15. Pierogi, Poland

Pierogi: The perfect Polish comfort food.

Pierogi: The perfect Polish comfort food.

Quinn Dombrowski

There are dumplings, and then there are Polish dumplings. Pierogi are parcels of deliciousness that can be filled with everything from potato to sauerkraut to meat to cheese and to fruit, and often topped with melted butter, sour cream or fried onions. They’re traditionally boiled, although fried pierogi are becoming more common.

14. Donuts, United States

Donuts -- delicious across the world.

Donuts — delicious across the world.

Courtesy Dave Crosby/Creative Commons/Flickr

These all-American fried wheels of dough need no introduction, but we will say one thing: the delicious guilt of snacking on these addictive calorie bombs makes them taste even better. If that’s possible.

13. Corn on the cob, global

A sandbox full of dried corn, a buzzing bee zip line and an 18-acre “MAiZE” delight and bewilder crowds at the yearly Farmstead Corn Maze and Pumpkin Festival.

God probably created corn just to have an excuse to invent melted butter. There’s something about biting down on a cob of corn — it’s a delicate enough operation to require concentration but primal enough to make you feel like the caveman you always wanted to be. Great food is caveman food.

12. Piri-piri chicken, Mozambique

courtesy of helen graves

The South African restaurant chain Nando’s has made Mozambican-Portuguese piri-piri chicken loved around the world. But for the original dish, head to Maputo, capital of Mozambique. Galinha à Zambeziana is a finger-lickin’ feast of chicken cooked with lime, pepper, garlic, coconut milk and piri piri sauce.

11. Rendang, Indonesia

Rendang tastes even better the next day -- if it lasts that long.

Rendang tastes even better the next day — if it lasts that long.

Courtesy Alpha/Creative commons/Flickr

Beef is slowly simmered with coconut milk and a mixture of lemongrass, galangal, garlic, turmeric, ginger and chilies, then left to stew for a few hours to create this dish of tender, flavorful bovine goodness. Tasting it fresh out of the kitchen will send your stomach into overdrive, but many people think it gets even better when left overnight.

10. Chicken muamba, Gabon

A bastardized Western version of this delectable Gabonese dish swamps everything in peanut butter. Oh, the insanity. The proper recipe calls for chicken, hot chili, garlic, tomato, pepper, salt, okra and palm butter, an artery-clogging African butter that will force you into a second helping and a promise to start using your gym membership.

9. Ice cream, global

This is how Llewellyn Clarke makes coconut ice cream on the island of Nevis. Here’s a hint … you start by climbing up a tree and cutting down a coconut.

You may have just gorged yourself to eruption point, but somehow there’s always room for a tooth-rotting pile of ice cream with nuts, marshmallows and chocolate sauce. Thank God for extra long spoons that allow you get at the real weight-gain stuff all mixed up and melted at the bottom of the glass.

8. Tom yum goong, Thailand

A must-eat Thai dish.

A must-eat Thai dish.

Courtesy Matt@PEK/Creative Commons/Flickr

This best food Thai masterpiece teems with shrimp, mushrooms, tomatoes, lemongrass, galangal and kaffir lime leaves. Usually loaded with coconut milk and cream, the hearty soup unifies a host of favorite Thai tastes: sour, salty, spicy and sweet. Best of all is the price: cheap.

7. Penang assam laksa, Malaysia

One of Malaysia's most popular dishes.

One of Malaysia’s most popular dishes.

Courtesy Pandora Voon/Creative Commons/Flickr

Poached, flaked mackerel, tamarind, chili, mint, lemongrass, onion, pineapple … one of Malaysia‘s most popular dishes is an addictive spicy-sour fish broth with noodles (especially great when fused with ginger), that’ll have your nose running before the spoon even hits your lips.

6. Hamburger, Germany

Who can resist a juicy handburger?

Who can resist a juicy handburger?

Photo Illustration/Thinkstock

When something tastes so good that people spend $20 billion each year in a single restaurant chain devoted to it, you know it has to fit into this list. McDonald’s may not offer the best burgers, but that’s the point — it doesn’t have to. The bread-meat-salad combination is so good that entire countries have ravaged their eco-systems just to produce more cows.

5. Peking duck, China

Obsessed with Peking duck? Duck de Chine offers one of Beijing’s most memorable dining experiences. Video by Black Buddha

The maltose-syrup glaze coating the skin is the secret. Slow roasted in an oven, the crispy, syrup-coated skin is so good that authentic eateries will serve more skin than meat, and bring it with pancakes, onions and hoisin or sweet bean sauce. Other than flying or floating, this is the only way you want your duck.

We meet up with Yumi Chiba to find out how she became one of the most renowned female sushi chefs in Japan.

4. Sushi, Japan

When Japan wants to build something right, it builds it really right. Brand giants such as Toyota, Nintendo, Sony, Nikon and Yamaha may have been created by people fueled by nothing more complicated than raw fish and rice, but it’s how the fish and rice is put together that makes this a global first-date favorite. The Japanese don’t live practically forever for no reason — they want to keep eating this stuff.

3. Chocolate, Mexico

Chocolate is the ultimate tasty treat.

Chocolate is the ultimate tasty treat.

Shutterstock

The Mayans drank it, Lasse Hallström made a film about it and the rest of us get over the guilt of eating too much of it by eating more of it. The story of the humble cacao bean is a bona fide out-of-the-jungle, into-civilization tale of culinary wonder. Without this creamy, bitter-sweet confection, Valentine’s Day would be all cards and flowers, Easter would turn back into another dull religious event.

2. Neapolitan pizza, Italy

Neapolitan pizza: always delicious no matter the size.

Neapolitan pizza: always delicious no matter the size.

MARIO LAPORTA/AFP/Getty Images

Spare us the lumpy chain monstrosities and “everything-on-it” wheels of greed. The best pizza was and still is the simple Neapolitan, an invention now protected by its own trade association that insists on sea salt, high-grade wheat flour, the use of only three types of fresh tomatoes, hand-rolled dough and the strict use of a wood-fired oven, among other quality stipulations. With just a few ingredients — dough, tomatoes, olive oil, salt and basil (the marinara pizza does not even contain cheese) — the Neapolitans created a food that few make properly, but everyone enjoys thoroughly.

1. Massaman curry, Thailand

One more reason to visit Thailand.

One more reason to visit Thailand.

Courtesy Marita/Creative Commons/Flickr

Emphatically the king of curries, and perhaps the king of all foods. Spicy, coconutty, sweet and savory. Even the packet sauce you buy from the supermarket can make the most delinquent of cooks look like a Michelin potential. Thankfully, someone invented rice, with which diners can mop up the last drizzles of curry sauce. “The Land of Smiles” isn’t just a marketing catch-line. It’s a result of being born in a land where the world’s most delicious food is sold on nearly every street corner.

Editor’s note: This article was previously published in 2011. It was reformatted, updated and republished in 2017.

Nashville, Tennessee (CNN) — The honky-tonk band playing at Robert’s Western World on a recent Thursday night is about 30 minutes into its set when Deb Paquette, the chef-owner of Nashville restaurants Etch and Etc., busts out on the tiny dance floor in front of the stage.

Patrons drinking local beer and eating the bar’s signature fried bologna sandwiches watch the impromptu performance appreciatively as they clap along to the beat. The appreciation turns to awe when Paquette does a full-on gymnastics split.

“I don’t get up as fast as I used to,” the 61-year-old chef says shrugging, as she returns to the table where her husband, son and vodka and soda await.

“She’s a spitfire,” her husband, Ernie, shouts above the music.

A couple of hours with Paquette easily confirms this.

Take her food, for example: It is deliberately, unapologetically original. Bold. Artsy. Uninterested in the now-ubiquitous farm-to-table dishes that so many other chefs are plating, Paquette delights in creating food that is “fun and exciting.”

In Deb Paquette’s kitchen at Nashville’s Etch restaurant, she puts simple ingredients together for a great side dish

Which is not to say that she avoids farm-fresh items.

Quite the opposite, in fact.

Unloading a plastic grocery bag of chanterelles she’d foraged from her backyard, about 30 miles outside of Nashville, Paquette promises to showcase them in a dish with “good, earthy Nashville flavor.”

“Here’s the most recent haul,” she says, whipping out her smartphone to show video of the shrooms growing wild deep in her backyard. For as long as the season lasts, her menus will include chanterelles in some form or another.

Getting started

Paquette’s cooking career began in the early 1980s, when nobody in town was doing the kind of food that she liked to do. As a result, Paquette says she was “able to explore and have a lot of fun with it [her cooking].”

In spite of the playfulness of her plates, Paquette’s dishes aren’t haphazard. Ambitious and picturesque, they are also balanced, something Paquette believes is essential to good cooking.

“To be able to balance many flavors on the plate, you have to have a lot on the plate,” explains Paquette, adding that she encourages the “kids” in her kitchen to “create a palette of flavors so that they’re balancing sweet, sour, salty…”

Venison with a crispy coconut potato, sesame eggplant puree and tomato masala at Etc.

Venison with a crispy coconut potato, sesame eggplant puree and tomato masala at Etc.

Bryce Urbany/CNN

Although Paquette is still working the line most days, she encourages her staff to play, be creative and find inspiration anywhere and everywhere.

As someone who has been in Nashville for decades, Paquette has seen the city change and grow. She’s seen it emerge as a real food and drink destination — even if she doesn’t get to experience the wonders of the city as often as she’d like.

Nashville’s local scene

When she does venture beyond the walls of her two restaurants, Paquette can be found supporting local businesses; in fact, she makes a point to support women in her industry because she believes that they all have something in common.

“Our jobs are usually a little bit harder, and I think we feel we have to strive a little bit harder to get where we want to be.”

Jackalope, a local brewery, serves up suds made by women in a place operated by women, and this is reason enough for Paquette to visit.

The cold beer is good, and so is the food-truck scene outside the space. The Grilled Cheeserie food truck, which serves pimento mac and cheese between slices of thick sourdough and cheesy tater tots, is one of Paquette’s favorites. If she can indulge in the dairy-rich bites alongside her chef friend Maneet Chauhan, well, that is a very good day.

The two do a lot of food-related events together, and Paquette loves Chauhan’s “fabulous” Indian restaurant in Nashville, Chauhan Ale & Masala House. Not stingy with praise, Paquette calls Chauhan “an excellent entrepreneur, a go-getter,” and someone who is simply fun to be around.

As she describes the lay of the land and her appreciation for this restaurant (Bastion, run by Josh Habiger, “a great chef who I so admire for his talents”) or that coffee shop (Frothy Monkey; “the roasters are great guys”), it’s easy to see why Paquette is so at home in Nashville.

Deb Paquette and Maneet Chauhan enjoy food from The Grilled Cheeserie food truck in Nashville.

Deb Paquette and Maneet Chauhan enjoy food from The Grilled Cheeserie food truck in Nashville.

Bryce Urbany/CNN

Paquette doesn’t just know the Nashville scene. She doesn’t just serve incredibly inventive and delicious food day in and day out. She doesn’t just mentor young women chefs and support local businesses.

She has fun.

She dances like nobody’s watching.

Chef Paquette’s Nashville picks

Etch Restaurant, 303 Demonbreun Street, Nashville, TN 37201, +1 (615) 522-0685
Etc., 3790 Bedford Avenue, Nashville, TN 37215, +1 (615) 988-0332
Bastion, 434 Houston Street, Nashvile, TN 37203, +1 (615) 490-8434

(CNN) — We love to write about food. We love to celebrate the good stuff and lambaste the bad.

This is our take on some of the best food cultures and destinations, but of course it’s subjective. It’s time to find out once and for all, which cuisine is king as you plan where you’ll travel next.

10. United States

America knows how to dish food that hits the spot.

America knows how to dish food that hits the spot.

Getty Images

This may be because most of the popular foods in the USA originate in some other country. The pizza slice is Italian. Fries are Belgium or Dutch. Hamburgers and frankfurters? Likely German. But in the kitchens of the United States, they have been improved and added to, to become global icons for food lovers everywhere.

There’s the traditional stuff such as clam chowder, key lime pie and Cobb salad, and most importantly the locavore movement of modern American food started by Alice Waters. This promotion of eco-awareness in food culture is carried on today by Michelle Obama.

Yum

Cheeseburger — a perfect example of making good things greater.

Chocolate chip cookie — the world would be a little less habitable without this Americana classic.

Dumb

All overly processed foods such as Twinkies, Hostess cakes and KFC.

9. Mexico

Mmmmexico.

Mmmmexico.

Courtesy Denis Dervisevic/Creative Commons/Flickr

Amongst the enchiladas and the tacos and the helados and the quesadillas you’ll find the zestiness of Greek salads and the richness of an Indian curry; the heat of Thai food and the use-your-hands snackiness of tapas. It is also central station for nutritional superfoods. All that avocado, tomato, lime and garlic with beans and chocolates and chilies to boot, is rich with antioxidants and good healthful things. It doesn’t taste healthy though. It tastes like a fiesta in your mouth.

Yum

Mole — ancient sauce made of chili peppers, spices, chocolate and magic incantations.

Tacos al pastor — the spit-roast pork taco, a blend of the pre- and post-Colombian.

Tamales — an ancient Mayan food of masa cooked in a leaf wrapping.

Dumb

Tostadas — basically the same as a taco or burrito but served in a crispy fried tortilla which breaks into pieces as soon as you bite into it. Impossible to eat.

8. Thailand

Open for more than eight decades, old school Bangkok cafe On Lok Yun — located at 72 Charoen Krung Road — is a local institution. Video by Black Buddha

Street eats are a Thai attraction. Flip through a Thai cook book and you’ll be hard pressed to find an ingredient list that doesn’t run a page long. The combination of so many herbs and spices in each dish produces complex flavors that somehow come together like orchestral music. Thais fit spicy, sour, salty, sweet, chewy, crunchy and slippery into one dish.

With influences from China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar and a royal culinary tradition, Thai cuisine is the best of many worlds. The best part about eating Thai food in Thailand though is the hospitality. Sun, beach, service with a smile and a plastic bag full of som tam — that’s the good life.

Yum

Tom yam kung — a rave party for the mouth. The floral notes of lemongrass, the earthy galangal, freshness of kaffir lime leaves and the heat of the chilies.

Massaman curry — a Thai curry with Islamic roots. Topped our list of the world’s 50 most delicious foods.

Som tam — the popular green papaya salad is sour, extra spicy, sweet and salty. It’s the best of Thai tastes.

Dumb

Pla som — a fermented fish eaten uncooked is popular in Lawa, Thailand and reported to be responsible for bile duct cancer.

7. Greece

greek food LOUISA GOULIAMAKI AFP Getty Images

Souvlaki is paradise on a stick.

LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/AFP/Getty Images

Traveling and eating in Greece feels like a glossy magazine spread come to life, but without the Photoshopping. Like the blue seas and white buildings, the kalamata olives, feta cheese, the colorful salads and roast meats are all postcard perfect by default.
The secret? Lashings of glistening olive oil. Gift of the gods, olive oil is arguably Greece’s greatest export, influencing the way people around the world think about food and nutritional health. Eating in Greece is also a way of consuming history. A bite of dolma or a slurp of lentil soup gives a small taste of life in ancient Greece, when they were invented.

Yum

Olive oil — drizzled on other food, or soaked up by bread, is almost as varied as wine in its flavors.

Spanakopita — makes spinach palatable with its feta cheese mixture and flaky pastry cover.

Gyros — late-night drunk eating wouldn’t be the same without the pita bread sandwich of roast meat and tzatziki.

Dumb

Lachanorizo — basically cabbage and onion cooked to death then mixed with rice. Filling, but one-dimensional.

6. India

Sweet and spicy chai tea.

Sweet and spicy chai tea.

NOAH SEELAM/AFP/AFP/Getty Images

When a cuisine uses spices in such abundance that the meat and vegetables seem like an afterthought, you know you’re dealing with cooks dedicated to flavor. There are no rules for spice usage as long as it results in something delicious. The same spice can add zest to savory and sweet dishes, or can sometimes be eaten on its own — fennel seed is enjoyed as a breath-freshening digestive aid at the end of meals.

And any country that manages to make vegetarian food taste consistently great certainly deserves some kind of Nobel prize. The regional varieties are vast. There’s Goa’s seafood, there’s the wazwan of Kashmir and there’s the coconutty richness of Kerala.

Yum

Dal — India has managed to make boiled lentils exciting.

Dosa — a pancake filled with anything from cheese to spicy vegetables, perfect for lunch or dinner.

Chai — not everyone likes coffee and not everyone likes plain tea, but it’s hard to resist chai.

Dumb

Balti chicken — an invention for the British palate, should probably have died out with colonialism.

5. Japan

We meet up with Yumi Chiba to find out how she became one of the most renowned female sushi chefs in Japan.

Japanese apply the same precision to their food as they do to their engineering. This is the place that spawned tyrannical sushi masters and ramen bullies who make their staff and customers tremble with a glare.

You can get a lavish multicourse kaiseki meal that presents the seasons in a spread of visual and culinary poetry. Or grab a seat at a revolving sushi conveyor for a solo feast. Or pick up something random and previously unknown in your gastronomic lexicon from the refrigerated shelves of a convenience store. It’s impossible to eat badly in Japan.

Yum

Miso soup — showcases some of the fundamental flavors of Japanese food, simple and wholesome.

Sushi and sashimi — who knew that raw fish on rice could become so popular?

Tempura — the perfection of deep-frying. Never greasy, the batter is thin and light like a crisp tissue.

Dumb

Fugu — is anything really that delicious that it’s worth risking your life to eat? The poisonous blowfish recently killed diners in Egypt, but is becoming more available in Japan.

4. Spain

Churros: dough meets chocolate.

Churros: dough meets chocolate.

Lauren Aloise

Let’s eat and drink, then sleep, then work for two hours, then eat and drink. Viva Espana, that country whose hedonistic food culture we all secretly wish was our own. All that bar-hopping and tapas-eating, the minimal working, the 9 p.m. dinners, the endless porron challenges — this is a culture based on, around and sometimes even inside food.

The Spaniards gourmandize the way they flamenco dance, with unbridled passion. They munch on snacks throughout the day with intervals of big meals. From the fruits of the Mediterranean Sea to the spoils of the Pyrenees, from the saffron and cumin notes of the Moors to the insane molecular experiments of Ferran Adria, Spanish food is timeless yet avant garde.

Yum

Jamon Iberico — a whole cured ham hock usually carved by clamping it down in a wooden stand like some medieval ritual.

Churros — the world’s best version of sweet fried dough.

Dumb

Gazpacho — it’s refreshing and all, but it’s basically liquid salad.

3. France

Freshly baked French baguettes -- mouthwatering.

Freshly baked French baguettes — mouthwatering.

PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images

If you’re one of those people who doesn’t like to eat because “there’s more to life than food” — visit Paris. It’s a city notorious for its curmudgeonly denizens, but they all believe in the importance of good food. Two-hour lunch breaks for three-course meals are de rigeur.

Entire two-week vacations are centered on exploring combinations of wines and cheeses around the country. Down-to-earth cooking will surprise those who thought of the French as the world’s food snobs (it is the birthplace of the Michelin Guide after all). Cassoulet, pot au feu, steak frites are revelatory when had in the right bistro.

Yum

Escargot — credit the French for turning slimey, garden-dwelling pests into a delicacy. Massive respect for making them taste amazing too.

Macarons — like unicorn food. In fact anything from a patisserie in France seems to have been conjured out of sugar, fairy dust and the dinner wishes of little girls.

Baguette — the first and last thing that you’ll want to eat in France. The first bite is transformational; the last will be full of longing.

Dumb

Foie gras — it tastes like 10,000 ducks roasted in butter then reduced to a velvet pudding, but some animal advocates decry the cruelty of force-feeding fowl to fatten their livers.

2. China

Peking duck -- just one of many Chinese culinary delights.

Peking duck — just one of many Chinese culinary delights.

GREG BAKER/AFP/AFP/Getty Images

The people who greet each other with “Have you eaten yet?” are arguably the most food-obsessed in the world. Food has been a form of escapism for the Chinese throughout its tumultuous history.

The Chinese entrepreneurial spirit and appreciation for the finer points of frugality — the folks are cheap, crafty and food-crazed — results in one of the bravest tribes of eaters in the world. But the Chinese don’t just cook and sell anything, they also make it taste great.

China is the place to go to get food shock a dozen times a day. “You can eat that?” will become the intrepid food traveler’s daily refrain. China’s regional cuisines are so varied it’s hard to believe they’re from the same nation. It’s not a food culture you can easily summarize, except to say you’ll invariably want seconds.

Yum

Sweet and sour pork — a guilty pleasure that has taken on different forms.

Dim sum — a grand tradition from Hong Kong to New York.

Roast suckling pig and Peking duck — wonders of different styles of ovens adopted by Chinese chefs.

Xiaolongbao — incredible soup-filled surprises. How do they get that dumpling skin to hold all that hot broth?

Dumb

Shark’s fin soup — rallying for Chinese restaurants to ban the dish has been a pet issue of green campaigners in recent years.

1. Italy

Nothing beats traditional Neapolitan pizza

Nothing beats traditional Neapolitan pizza

MARIO LAPORTA/AFP/AFP/Getty Images

Italian food has enslaved tastebuds around the globe for centuries, with its zesty tomato sauces, those clever things they do with wheat flour and desserts that are basically vehicles for cream. It’s all so simple. Get some noodles, get some olive oil, get some garlic, maybe a tomato or a slice of bacon. Bam, you have a party on a plate. And it is all so easy to cook and eat.

From the cheesy risottos to the crisp fried meats, Italian cuisine is a compendium of crowd-pleasing comfort food. Many people have welcomed it into their homes, especially novice cooks. Therein lies the real genius — Italian food has become everyman’s food.

Yum

Ragu alla bolognese (spaghetti bolognaise) — the world’s go-to “can’t decide what to have” food.

Pizza — mind-bogglingly simple yet satisfying dish. Staple diet of bachelors and college students.

Italian-style salami — second only to cigarettes as a source of addiction.

Coffee — cappuccino is for breakfast? Forget it. We want it all day and all night.

Dumb

Buffalo mozzarella — those balls of spongy, off-white, subtly flavored cheeses of water buffalo milk. The flavor’s so subtle you have to imagine it.

Editor’s note: This article was previously published in 2013. It was reformatted and republished in 2017.

(CNN) — Never before has the New York City pizza scene been as strong and diverse as it is today. World-famous pizzaiolos are continually trying to break ground in this food epicenter to see if their pies can compete, and other types, such as Detroit-style pizza, are starting to become popular pizza contenders too.
Even the venerable Anthony Mangieri — who is considered to be one of the most respected pizza-makers in the world — has returned to NYC from San Francisco to reopen Una Pizza Napoletana and rejoin the ranks of New York’s elite.

Sure, you can still find dollar slices from one of the many grab-and-go stores that still litter the city, but you’d be doing yourself a disservice by not visiting one of the many world-class pizzerias that New York City has been blessed with. These pizzerias take the time to source the freshest ingredients and make sure each pie is made to perfection. This means there is often a wait (and a higher price tag), but that’s quality for you.

Whether you’re craving Neapolitan (soft, chewy crusts baked in a wood-fired oven and topped with fresh toppings), Neo-Neapolitan (similar to Neapolitan but with a sturdier crust), a square Sicilian (rectangular pizza with a thick crust,) or a good ol’ New York-style (big, wide slices with a light layer of sauce and a lot of cheese on top), these are the best pizzerias in New York City.

* Pizzerias are listed in alphabetical order.

Beebe’s

The Hot Italian pie from Beebe's in Long Island City in Queens is worth a trek to the borough.

The Hot Italian pie from Beebe’s in Long Island City in Queens is worth a trek to the borough.

Diana Diroy/CNN

Queens doesn’t have much of a reputation when it comes to pizza, but Beebe’s, located in the Boro Hotel in Long Island City, is helping to fill that void.

While there are a number of specialty pies on the menu, diners are able to customize pies to their liking. You can choose the Margherita, vodka or blank page (mozzarella, housemade ricotta, pecorino and garlic) as a base and add on all types of toppings from anchovies to sweet fennel sausage.

The Stracciatella, which is topped with a housemade stracciatella cheese and blanketed in arugula, is one of the most popular pies on the menu. The Hot Italian is also a crowd favorite, and the Mike’s Hot Honey drizzled on top adds a touch of sweetness and heat.

Of course, you can’t go wrong with the classic ‘Roni. And while vodka pies served in NYC can be hit or miss, Beebe’s gets it right. Add meatballs for an ethereal experience.

Best Pizza

Best Pizza in Williamsburg (Brooklyn's hippest neighborhood) puts out a particularly good white pie.

Best Pizza in Williamsburg (Brooklyn’s hippest neighborhood) puts out a particularly good white pie.

Best Pizza

Frank Pinello certainly seemed to have a lot of confidence when he opened a pizzeria in 2010 and decided to call it Best Pizza. Good thing, there’s truth to the name, for Pinello’s pizza is the best in Williamsburg, one of Brooklyn’s hottest neighborhoods.

Best Pizza has the feel of a local slice joint, where you can pop in and grab a slice (go for the white or square grandma) if you need a quick fix.

Best Pizza’s white slice has a serious claim to being the best in NYC. It’s topped with creamy ricotta and a generous helping of sweet caramelized onions. Sesame seeds decorate the crust to lend even more crunch and enhanced flavor.

Denino’s Pizzeria and Tavern

The clam pie from Denino's Pizzeria and Tavern in Greenwich Village can also be found at the Staten Island location.

The clam pie from Denino’s Pizzeria and Tavern in Greenwich Village can also be found at the Staten Island location.

Allen Kim/CNN

While Staten Island is not the birthplace of the thin, bar-style pies that the New York City borough is known for, it was certainly popularized here. And if you’re getting pizza on Staten Island, Denino’s Pizzeria and Tavern is your spot.

Using a gas oven with bricks inside, Denino’s cooks its pizza at about 575 F (300 C). Unlike other places that may use coal or wood and crank the heat to more than 800 F (425 C), Denino’s cooks its pies at a lower temperature for a longer amount of time — about 11 minutes. The result is a cracker-thin, crunchy crust that manages to maintain its shape — no folding required here.

Joseph Castellano, who owns the Greenwich Village outpost in Manhattan, considers the dough the most important part of Denino’s pizza. That firm crust holds up well even with the copious amount of clams piled on its famous clam pie, which is the best you can get in NYC. Pizza connoisseurs may argue that the best clam pie in the region actually hails from Frank Pepe’s in New Haven, Connecticut, but I stand by my Denino’s praise.

Di Fara

Dom DeMarco has been slinging dough at Di Fara in Brooklyn since 1965.

Dom DeMarco has been slinging dough at Di Fara in Brooklyn since 1965.

Diana Diroy/CNN

It’s a few minutes past noon on a cool and drizzly Friday when Di Fara’s gates go up, and its doors open to the line of customers that have gathered outside. “We got a late start today,” Margaret Miales, one of Dominque DeMarco’s daughters says, as she finishes setting up shop.

Her setup includes a blank sheet of paper and a pen. It’s how she takes orders and how Di Fara pizza has been taking orders since 1965 when DeMarco opened the joint in a quiet part of Brooklyn known as Midwood.

It’s a cash-only spot where customers visiting from all over the world will gladly fork out more than $5 for a slice of the pizzeria’s Margherita, a slice that many will wait over an hour for. In spite of the no-frills shop, the prices can raise eyebrows. But, says Mieles of Di Fara’s price point: “We go the extra mile to source our ingredients.”

Thanks to DeMarco’s handiwork — he’s 81 and often still behind the counter tossing around dough and painting it with sauce, fresh mozzarella and other classic pizza ingredients — it’s the stuff of delicious legends. If you’re lucky, you’ll find yourself front and center when DeMarco wields a pair of scissors and expertly cuts fresh basil over his masterpiece.

Emily

Emily in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn dishes up interesting flavor combinations. You might find pickled chilis and honey waking up your taste buds.

Emily in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn dishes up interesting flavor combinations. You might find pickled chilis and honey waking up your taste buds.

Courtesy Jill Futter/Emily

Named after his wife, Emily was opened in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn in 2014 by Matt and Emily Hyland.

Learning everything he knows about pizza from Luca Arrigoni from Sottocasa (another pizzeria in NYC), Hyland applied those lessons to help build the rapidly growing Emily empire. The pizzas at Emily are wood-fired like a Neapolitan but charred like New Haven pizzas.

Hyland jokes and calls it “New Havapolitan.”

The signature pie is the Emily, which is as distinctive as they come, as it’s topped with truffle Sottocenere, honey and pistachios. The Colony is also one of the most requested pies, which has pepperoni, pickled chilis and honey on top.

While Emily is the flagship restaurant, Hyland can also be credited with helping to popularize Detroit-style pizza in New York with Emmy Squared.

A hybrid between a Sicilian and a deep-dish pizza, this outpost serves up square pies with thick crusts that are typically baked twice and then topped with sauce afterward.

John’s of Bleecker Street

A sausage and pepperoni pizza from John's of Bleecker Street retains its crisp in spite of the heavy helping of meat.

A sausage and pepperoni pizza from John’s of Bleecker Street retains its crisp in spite of the heavy helping of meat.

Allen Kim/CNN

John’s of Bleecker Street is practically an NYC institution, serving its first pizza in 1929. It’s considered to be one of the four original pizzerias in NYC alongside Lombardi’s, Patsy’s and Totonno’s.

John’s hasn’t changed its recipe since its inception, and pizzas are still made the same way with the cheese going on first before adding sauce on top, which allows the cheese to melt right onto the dough and prevents the dough from absorbing too much moisture from the sauce. And the coal-fired oven that’s been a part of the restaurant for decades is still churning out six pies at a time at a blistering 850 F (454 C).

One step inside the restaurant is like walking through history. The booths and tables have carvings dating back decades, and diners are welcome to carve their name into the graffiti-covered wood — just leave the walls alone.

Something that has changed at John’s is the meatball recipe, and it’s better than ever before. So, make sure you add meatballs on at least one of your pies, and if you’re having trouble deciding, split the pie up and get different toppings on each half. Don’t be afraid to load up on toppings, as the thin, crunchy crust is sturdy and holds up great even with a mess of ingredients piled on top.

Juliana’s

The House Special No. 1 coming out of the oven at Juliana's in Brooklyn, NY is actually better than its neighbor's pies at Grimaldi's.

The House Special No. 1 coming out of the oven at Juliana’s in Brooklyn, NY is actually better than its neighbor’s pies at Grimaldi’s.

Allen Kim/CNN

Patsy Grimaldi may have sold Grimaldi’s back in 1998, but after a long hiatus, he made his triumphant return with the opening of Juliana’s in 2012. While he was no longer able to use the Grimaldi name, he was able to reclaim his old space on 19 Fulton St. alongside the coal-fired oven that he used for decades.

While tourists line up around the block at Grimaldi’s in DUMBO (a Brooklyn neighborhood that stands for “down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass”), we recommend going to Juliana’s instead. The pizza, along with the wait, does not compare. Everything from the crust, sauce and toppings are better, which should come as no surprise considering Patsy Grimaldi is one of the most renowned pizziaolos the world has ever seen.

The House Special No. 1 at Juliana’s is a revelation. Topped with mozzarella, scamorza affumicata (Italian cow’s milk cheese), pancetta, scallions and white truffles in olive oil, there is no pizza like it in NYC. You could argue that it is the single best specialty pie you can get in this great city. Grimaldi took something great and made it brilliant.

Louie & Ernie’s

John Tiso from Louie & Ernie's Pizza in the Bronx has been making pizza since 1987, and this is the go-to neighborhood spot.

John Tiso from Louie & Ernie’s Pizza in the Bronx has been making pizza since 1987, and this is the go-to neighborhood spot.

Allen Kim/CNN

Any trip to the Bronx should require a stop at Louie & Ernie’s. First started in 1947 in Harlem, Louie & Ernie’s moved to the Bronx in 1947 and has been there ever since.

It has the feel of a true neighborhood slice joint, and everyone that goes there feels like a regular that lives up the block. Nearly every customer that walked in during our visit seemed to know everyone working behind the counter. Brothers John and Cosima Tiso took over the pizzeria in 1987 and haven’t changed a thing. Everything from the sauce to the cornmeal (it’s dusted on before going in the oven to add some crispiness) to the recipe for the dough is the same.

The menu is made up of only pizza and calzones, but the stand-out is the sausage pizza. The sausages are scattered liberally in huge pieces across the pizza, and the thin, crunchy New York-style crust holds up admirably. Pizzas are baked for nearly 15 minutes, which helps the crust maintain its shape.

When you think of a classic New York pizzeria, this is it.

Lucali

Mark Iacono first opened the doors to Lucali in 2006, building most of the space by himself, including the oven used to make all of the pies. He’s one of the most unlikely pizza masters to emerge from NYC, having taught himself to make pizzas with no family recipe or pedigree to build off of.

If you plan to go to Lucali, go early and prepare to wait (or resign yourself to the separate takeout line). While the restaurant now accepts reservations through Resy, the limited number of slots fill up quickly.

Coming to Lucali is part dining experience, part theater. Watching Iacono make each pie on the marble top separating the kitchen from the dining area is mesmerizing, and it’s eerily reminiscent of watching pizza master Dom DeMarco work the counter at Di Fara, which should come as no surprise considering that DeMarco was Iacono’s inspiration.

The menu is as simple as they come. Pies only come in one size, each of which are topped with fresh basil, and there are no pre-set pies on the menu. You start with a plain pie and add toppings such as pepperoni, onions or peppers. It’s pizza at its most basic, and yet there’s nothing basic about it. From the fresh toppings to the sublime sauce that tops each pie, this is the type of pizza that all pizzerias should strive to make.

Best of all, the restaurant is BYOB, so feel free to bring a few beers or a bottle of wine to enjoy alongside your food. And who knows, if you’re lucky you might just catch Jay-Z and Beyoncé dining there.

Paulie Gee’s

The Hellboy from Brooklyn's Paulie Gee's contains fresh mozzarella, Italian tomatoes, Berkshire soppressata picante, Parmigiano Reggiano and Mike's Hot Honey.

The Hellboy from Brooklyn’s Paulie Gee’s contains fresh mozzarella, Italian tomatoes, Berkshire soppressata picante, Parmigiano Reggiano and Mike’s Hot Honey.

Paulie Giannone

Paul Giannone, tired of working a 9-5 job in IT, decided to give it all up in pursuit of his one true passion: pizza. And thank God that he did, because his pizzeria, Paulie Gee’s, serves the best neo-Neapolitan pizza in New York.

The list of wood-fired pizzas at Paulie Gee’s is as lengthy as pizza menus come, and each pie has a quirky name to boot. The Ricotta Be Kiddin’ Me (fresh mozzarella, Canadian bacon, sweet Italian fennel sausage, fresh basil, and post-oven fresh ricotta dollops), Hellboy (fresh mozzarella, Italian tomatoes, Berkshire soppressata picante, Parmigiano Reggiano and Mike’s Hot Honey) and Cherry Jones (fresh mozzarella, Gorgonzola cheese, prosciutto di Parma, dried Bing cherries, and orange blossom honey) are all favorites at this Greenpoint pizzeria.

For the more carnivorous eaters out there, the Hometown Brisket (fresh mozzarella, beef brisket from Hometown BBQ in Brooklyn, house-pickled red onions and a drizzle of Hometown BBQ sauce) is fantastic.

On any given night, you can also expect Giannone himself to come by your table for a quick chat. It’s this type of personal touch that makes Paulie Gee’s feel more like a neighborhood restaurant than a world-class pizzeria, and it’ll have you coming back time and time again.

Prince Street Pizza

Detroit-style pizza seems to be all the craze these days in NYC, but if you’re craving a square pizza, Prince Street Pizza stands head and shoulders above the rest.

While the hole-in-the-wall pizza shop — standing room only — has Neapolitan pies on the menu that are quite good, you’re coming here for the “Soho Squares.” The Spicy Spring is the signature pizza here, and it’s topped with fra diavolo sauce, fresh mozzarella and the type of spicy pepperoni that curls up into little grease-filled cups after coming out of the oven. And you could certainly not accuse them of skimping on the toppings, as the pepperoni cups cover practically every inch of the pizza.

Your hands will get greasy, there will be oil everywhere and you will need piles of napkins to clean up after yourself. But one thing’s for certain: You will walk away happily sated. It’s worth the wait.

Roberta’s

Roberta's makes a lot of good pizza, but the stellar choice is almost always the classic margherita.

Roberta’s makes a lot of good pizza, but the stellar choice is almost always the classic margherita.

Courtesy Roberta’s

Started in 2008, Roberta’s helped usher in a new wave of pizzerias in NYC. A pilgrimage to its Bushwick outpost in Brooklyn was a must for any pizza-lover in its early years, and the waits could be expected to stretch upwards of three hours long.

While it’s much easier to get some of Roberta’s pizza now, with outposts spread across NYC in various food halls and pop-ups, a trip to the original location is still worth the trek. And while you should most certainly come for the pizza, you should stay for some of the fantastic non-pizza dishes coming out of the kitchen.

Roberta’s makes one of the best Margherita pies that NYC has to offer, and you can’t go wrong with one of the signature pies from its wood-fired oven: the Speckenwolf (mozzarella, speck, cremini mushrooms, onion, oregano and black pepper) or the Beastmaster (tomato, mozzarella, gorgonzola, pork sausage, onion, caper and jalapeno).

Totonno’s

Totonno's in Coney Island has been open since 1924, making it one of the oldest pizzerias in the United States.

Totonno’s in Coney Island has been open since 1924, making it one of the oldest pizzerias in the United States.

Antoinette Balzano

Opened on Neptune Avenue in Coney Island in 1924, Totonno’s is one of the oldest pizzerias in the United States. Despite having to rebuild the restaurant twice since 2009 due to a fire and damage from Hurricane Sandy, Totonno’s is still standing today and is better than ever.

Make sure that you come hungry but not starving. The oven here is small, and on busy days expect to wait nearly an hour for your pizza to come out. Pies come in two sizes and toppings are added on as extras. The coal-fired oven gets the crust nice and crispy, but it still folds perfectly for easy eating.

You can’t go wrong with a pepperoni pie with garlic, which are the perfect complements to the sweet yet slightly tangy sauce that gets layered on thick along with a generous helping of fresh mozzarella. While it’s not on the main menu, you can order a white pie, which is covered in fresh mozzarella and garlic. Regulars swear by it and say it’s the best they’ve ever had.

Una Pizza Napoletana

A margherita from Una Pizza Napoletana in New York City is all about the base.

A margherita from Una Pizza Napoletana in New York City is all about the base.

Courtesy Alex Lau/Una Pizza Napoleta

Una Pizza Napoletana is unlike any other pizzeria in NYC and that’s due to owner Anthony Mangieri’s tireless pursuit of perfection and devotion to Naples-style pizza. Mangieri considers the dough the most important part of a pizza and this care is apparent upon first bite. The perfectly charred and blistering crust has a soft, chewy interior that is so good, you’ll be using every last piece of the crust to sop the oil off your plate as you devour every bite.

Pies are on the smaller side and seem perfectly proportioned for one person, which makes sense since pizzas here are not precut and require you to use a fork and knife to cut your own slices. The pies won’t come cheap either, as the Margherita is one of the most expensive in the city, priced at $22.

On any given night, there are only five different pizzas served on the menu — no add-ons or substitutes are allowed. The Filetti (fresh cherry tomatoes, mozzarella di bufala, garlic, basil) is a standout from its selection of permanent pies. On Fridays, the Concetta (San Marzano tomatoes, piennolo, corbarino, estratto della casa, parmigiano) is served. And the only pie with meat or eggs, the Apollonia (named after his daughter and made of mozzarella di bufala, parmigiano, egg, salami, black pepper, garlic and basil), is offered on Saturdays.

Make sure you leave room for dessert, because the tiramisu is almost reason enough to to visit Una Pizza Napoletana.

Stacey Lastoe contributed to reporting on this story.

In good years, cargo trains moving west along the flat, sweeping grasslands of North Dakota’s plains are a sign of money rolling in.

Today, as tariffs from America’s largest foreign soybean market — China — threaten to upend the industry, many trains sit idle.

“There are no shuttle trains leaving. There is no nothing,” said Joe Ericson, the 38-year-old president of the North Dakota Soybean Growers Association. “They can’t get rid of the beans.”

In conversations with more than 50 farmers, producers and agriculture experts in five states representing each of the five food groups, one trend was clear: The once-deep ties to President Donald Trump have frayed over the past year. But they remain intact for a small majority of farmers CNN spoke with ahead of the critical 2018 midterm elections. Democrats, who see an opening with Trump’s trade war, will likely struggle to make inroads with these voters.

The President gives all of them plenty to complain about. They grumble about his tweeting — that’s not their style — and what his trade war has done to their bottom lines. But if the President’s re-election were held tomorrow, most of them would back him. They trust Trump, and many believe Democrats don’t understand or largely ignore their way of life.

Still, Trump’s deep support in rural America, which helped propel him to the White House in 2016, is being tested. The wheat farmers, soybean growers and pork producers confront a growing trade war that is forcing them to re-evaluate their ties to the President’s Republican Party and openly question whether his mantra to “Make America Great Again” came at the expense of voters like them.

How a trade war with China hurts US farmers

Ericson, a broad-shouldered and blunt soybean grower who voted for Trump in 2016, said the uncertainty in the soybean market has left growers in peril.

“A lot of people say we are the pawns in the game,” Ericson said on his 2,500-acre soybean farm in Wimbledon, a town of roughly 200 in eastern North Dakota. “And pawns are never left on the board at the end of the game.”

Trump ran on a pledge to get tough on trade deals, and he has tried to deliver. But actions have reactions, and the President’s decision to impose tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminum has prompted China to impose billions of dollars in counter-tariffs on imports from the United States. Products once destined for China are getting left in the US because they’re now too expensive, flooding the domestic market with soybeans, pork and other products and in turn driving down prices for farmers.

These men and women, who pride themselves on their ability to make a living off the land, see the trade war that is hurting their bottom lines as a referendum on their toughness.

I don’t think the Chinese have any clue the staying power that the heartland of this country has.

Alan Townsend

“I don’t think the Chinese have any clue the staying power that the heartland of this country has,” said Alan Townsend, a wheat farmer from northwest Kansas who proudly backed Trump the moment he launched his campaign.

These growers worry as rounds of tariffs drive down sales and profits. And they are conflicted about the Trump administration’s aid package to limit farmers’ losses, something one grower called “a $12 billion acknowledgement that he hurt us.”

Most have lived their entire lives decrying what they see as welfare and believe that Trump’s plan is exactly that. Others were perplexed by how federal funds that won’t come close to making up for their losses would reach their farmsteads. But all acknowledged the federal money propping up the price of soybeans, corn and pork would indirectly help them avoid bankruptcy.

“Do I want an aid package? No. I really don’t,” said Trent Thiele, a pork farmer from Elma, Iowa. “I’d just as soon have fair and free trade for everybody.”

A small majority of these farmers said they didn’t plan to punish the President for the trade war at the ballot box in November and even more said they would still vote for him if he were on the ballot himself.

But they worry their way of life may not survive for the next generation.

The financial pressures have forced farmers to consider directing their sons and daughters into other businesses, fearing they won’t make it in farming. Families struggle as young people flee to nearby cities shortly after they graduate high school, leaving an aging population behind. And towns grapple with the trend toward larger, more corporate farms as family outfits sell in the face of adversity.

“It is going to make it really hard for the next generation to come back and farm right now,” said Thiele on his Iowa farm as his 12-year-old son, Clayton, worked nearby. “If we don’t get it fixed before he gets of age, it is going to be tough for him to come back and farm with me.”

What follows is a political portrait of rural America at a time of great uncertainty, just two years removed from an election that some farmers believed would turn the tide for their way of life.

Family’s pork farm at risk as tariffs sink prices

Elma, Iowa

Pork producers fear Trump’s trade war could end their way of life

Trent Thiele isn’t a fighter. But as tariffs sink pork prices on the roughly 80,000 hogs he sells each year, the hulking pork producer here in northeast Iowa is preparing for a fight.

Thiele’s livelihood has become collateral damage in a trade war far bigger than his farm or his family of five. Chinese tariffs on US pork, along with trade disputes with Mexico and Canada, have depressed the hog market, and producers like Thiele say they are now making roughly 33% less per hog they raise.

That dip could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses for Thiele this year, and the uncertainty has already forced him to stop an expansion he had planned for this year.

Democrats in the state hope the losses under a Republican President will cause some swing voters to tilt toward their party in 2018, where the race to represent Iowa’s 1st Congressional District and a competitive gubernatorial contest have focused on trade.

It’s not that simple, though. Farmers, many of whom backed Donald Trump in 2016, believed – and still do – that he has a plan on trade. But their livelihood is on the line and time is running out.

“This President is the most unique President of my lifetime,” said David Struthers, a hog producer who, like others in the area, voted for Trump. “To punish a Republican, I don’t think that is a good idea.”

This President is the most unique President of my lifetime. To punish a Republican, I don’t think that is a good idea.

David Struthers, hog producer who voted for Trump in 2016

He added: “We trust, for the most part … the President is going to figure things out and make it work out.”

In the near term, farmers like Thiele said their farms should survive the depressed prices by tightening the family budgets. Many farmers in Iowa remain sympathetic to Trump’s goals, despite the damage that has had on their bottom lines. And some even believe their pain is worth helping other sectors of the American economy like steel and manufacturing.

But Thiele’s altruism dissipates when he starts to think about the next generation of American farmers.

On the line, Thiele said, is whether his son embraces the 5 a.m. wake-up calls, arduous labor and fear of uncertainty that he has come to relish.

The generational handover is what farmers like Thiele fear most. Their belief: If farming’s razor-thin margins shrink, the lifestyle they have enjoyed their entire lives may be forever changed. This cycle could alter the face of places like Elma, Iowa, and further accelerate the decline of the family farmer.

“It is going to make it really hard for the next generation to come back and farm right now,” Thiele told CNN, standing with his 12-year old son, Clayton. “If we don’t get it fixed before he gets of age, it is going to be tough for him to come back and farm with me.”

There is data to back up these fears. The number of farms, according to the US Department of Agriculture, has steadily declined for decades, while the average size of farms has steadily increased, meaning smaller family farms are being sold off to corporate farmsteads.

“None of us want to create something that ends with us,” said Thiele, an optimist who, in candid moments, admits that the current state of affairs gets him down “every day.”

“But that is the way it is,” he added. “No matter what job you are in, or what profession you are in, you’ve got good days and bad days. And right now, it just seems to be one of the times where it is a little tougher.”

The politics of pork

Trump bested Hillary Clinton in Iowa by over 9 percentage points on the backs of rural voters. The 2016 election was a boon for congressional Republicans, too: All four Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation held their seats.

Democrats hope 2018 will be a different story, and they are using trade as a wedge issue to split rural voters from lawmakers like Republican Rep. Rod Blum, who thanked Trump for the trade negotiations at a roundtable with the President earlier this year.

“Thank you for having political courage to renegotiate these trade deals, which quite frankly are not good to the United States,” Blum said, sitting next to the President in Dubuque, Iowa. “You’ve taken some heat for it in the short term, but in the long run, the farmers, the manufacturers, the employers are all going to be better off.”

Abby Finkenauer, the Democrat running to unseat Blum in Iowa’s 1st Congressional District, has made trade central to her 2018 message. She said Blum’s laudatory comments floored her.

“Shocked me, honestly,” she told CNN. “And to really be honest, (it) broke my heart a little bit.”

The race between Blum, who declined an interview with CNN, and Finkenauer, the 29-year-old daughter of a union worker who is vying to be one of the youngest members of Congress, is the clearest dividing line on trade. CNN rates the race as lean Democratic.

“You’ve got folks right now waking up all across this district and all across the state right now worried about their future,” Finkenauer said. “You’ve got an administration that started a trade war on Twitter, and the instability of that and the concern that comes with that is truly being felt here in Iowa.”

Eager for a fix

Iowa is the largest pork-producing state in the country, with nearly $1.1 billion worth of pork being exported from the state in 2017, according to the Iowa Pork Producers Association.

The back roads of Elma and communities throughout Iowa may seem a world away from growing pork markets in China, Canada and Mexico, but the future of pork producing is now directly tied to those international markets. Mexico and Canada are some of the biggest buyers of Iowan pork, and China, whose rising middle class now has the money to feed its growing taste for pork in recent years, has become a burgeoning market for the industry, buying more than $660 million worth of American pork in 2017.

That’s big money for the state, meaning Thiele is far from the only pork producer eager for a quick solution to the trade war.

Al Wulfekuhle, a farmer with 40 years of experience in the pork producing business, said he worries “every day about making ends meet” and hopes the President understands how time is of the essence when it comes to addressing trade issues.

“When you have a period like this when things look devastating, and there is no other word for it … you really start worrying how you are going to make ends meet and how much money can you lose and how long the bankers will stay with you,” he said. “It is psychological.”

Wulfekuhle, who sells around 40,000 hogs a year over a dozen different sites around Quasqueton, Iowa, said farmers are willing to give Trump a little leeway on trade negotiations but warned that the impact the negotiations have on future prices could change that sentiment quickly.

Hog producers regularly lock in their prices before the hog is fully grown, meaning they are using the future prices to sign contracts on a certain amount of pigs they raise. When the future price is low, it’s nearly impossible for the pork producers to lock in prices that give them any profit. With future prices hovering around $60 per 100 pounds, Wulfekuhle said he regularly feels like he and other producers are “looking off the edge of a cliff right now.”

“If we actually get that cheap for the average producer,” Wulfekuhle said, “I don’t know how long you can survive that. … When you look at losses of that magnitude, it can happen fairly quickly. Within a few months, things can turn.”

Soybean farmer Craig Olson prepares a combine harvester on his farm in Colfax, North Dakota, with his 7-year-old son, Carter. Andrew Cullen for CNN

Wimbledon, North Dakota

‘Collateral damage’: A soybean slump threatens to upend key Senate race

Timing is of the essence on the windswept plains of North Dakota: Soybeans are harvested in the fall, meaning growers are now taking stock of how tariffs will affect their crop weeks before the 2018 elections.

North Dakota – the fourth-largest state in soybean acres planted and harvested, according to the North Dakota Soybean Council – is particularly relevant in the fight over trade because of Sen. Heidi Heitkamp’s battle to keep her seat in a state President Donald Trump won by more than 36 percentage points in 2016. Rep. Kevin Cramer is challenging Heitkamp by tying himself to the President, a strategy complicated by the fact that Trump’s trade actions are straining each farm’s bottom line.

Heitkamp is now considered the most vulnerable Democratic senator in the country, with Cramer seen as the favorite in the race.

Fields of corn and soybeans grow beyond the Olson family farm in Colfax. Andrew Cullen for CNN

The trade fight is particularly relevant in North Dakota because of its proximity to the Pacific Northwest: While roughly a third of all soybeans harvested in the United States end up in China, the ratio is even higher in North Dakota because its train lines head to Asian-focused ports on the Pacific and buyers in Indonesia, Taiwan and, most importantly, China.

The uncertainty in the Chinese market has crushed the soybean price, which hit a 10-year low earlier this year. Prices have continued to dip, and soybean growers across North Dakota are facing six-figure losses if the market doesn’t rebound by the time they harvest later this year, causing some growers to reconsider their support for Trump and other Republicans ahead of the 2018 midterms.

“It could hurt Cramer,” said Joe Ericson, the president of the North Dakota Soybean Growers Association. “With Cramer tying his boat to Trump, that could hurt him.”

Soybeans fill a trailer from the Olson family farm. Andrew Cullen for CNN

What is success?

The longer soybean prices sink, the more difficult it is for farmers to lock in profitable prices for their haul.

This hurts not only their farms, but also a whole host of industries – grain elevators, local hardware stores, oil and gas suppliers – that are directly affected by the success or failure of farmers. And their concern is that if trade disputes drag on, China will begin looking toward South American countries like Brazil for a more stable supply of soybeans.

There is also a timing problem for Republicans in the state: Every grower CNN interviewed said their view would darken if the prices stayed low during the harvest season.

Monte Peterson, a North Dakota farmer and active member of several state and national soybean trade organizations, is concerned that tariffs on soybeans and other agricultural products will hurt North Dakota farmers. Andrew Cullen for CNN

“My big picture is if China is not buying more beans than they were before, then it is not helping us,” said Monte Peterson, standing in bluff-rimmed soybean fields. “For this to work out, they have to buy more than they were before, not equal to what they were doing because now I have lost this.”

My big picture is if China is not buying more beans than they were before, then it is not helping us.

Monte Peterson

Peterson voted for Trump in 2016, and he paused when asked if he regrets it.

“I am wondering about that vote,” he said, adding that his regret “really hinges on the way these trade negotiations turn out” because he questions “the method by which we are negotiating trade right now.”

Craig Olson, a multi-generational grower in Colfax, was less conflicted.

Craig Olson checks a message about the soybean market on his cell phone in the yard of his family farm. Andrew Cullen for CNN

The Republican voter, who said he plans to vote for Cramer in November, said he still supports the President and is prepared to give him considerable leeway in a trade war, even if it impacts his bottom line.

“You know what, he campaigned that he was going to help America with its products and this is a byproduct,” Olson said. “It was his campaign promise to help the steelworkers and the other workers in the United States, and the consequences are that it affects soybean farmers.”

He added: “I see where he’s coming from and what he’s trying to do.”

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp is running a close re-election campaign this fall. She has criticized the Trump administration’s tariffs, which have hurt North Dakota’s agricultural sector and soybean growers in particular – a key component of her campaign against Rep. Kevin Cramer, a North Dakota Republican who has aligned himself closely with Trump. Andrew Cullen for CNN

Justin Sherlock, the mayor of 90-person Dazey, North Dakota, didn’t vote for Trump. He now stands firmer in that view given the burgeoning trade war.

“Trump scared me from the beginning. I was worried about this reckless, cowboy mentality and I was worried we would get into situations like this,” he said. “I didn’t expect it to be at this level.”

Sherlock, who began farming in 2013 after his father passed away in 2012, called the trade war a “disaster” for farmers, especially because most growers have had “several tough years.”

Sherlock is in the minority. And he knows it. But the small-town mayor said in private moments he is starting to hear Trump supporters worry about his presidency and compare him to former President Jimmy Carter, whose grain embargo of the Soviet Union in 1980 caused the wheat market to tank.

Can soybeans save a senator?

Running as a Democrat in North Dakota months after Trump swept the state is a difficult proposition, forcing Heitkamp to be cautious about how – and when – she criticizes the President.

And trade is no different: Heitkamp has been upfront and outspoken about her opposition to Trump’s trade practices and made her disagreement central to her campaign. But the senator has taken a more guarded position on the Trump administration’s aid package to farmers – much of which has been set aside for soybeans – and hasn’t targeted the President with the same animosity she has saved for Cramer.

“I think I have been very clear that I disagree with the President’s position on trade,” Heitkamp said in an interview with CNN shortly before she took on her opponent. “Congressman Cramer has decided that he is going to be with the President 100% of the time, no matter what the consequences to North Dakota.”

The Richland Colts varsity football team practices on the school field across the street from the Colfax Farmers Elevator in Colfax, North Dakota. Owned by a group of several dozen local farmers, the elevator stores and sells locally produced grains. Andrew Cullen for CNN

Cramer, who declined to be interviewed for this story, has stood by the President throughout his Senate run, even while he has acknowledged some frustration on behalf of growers in North Dakota. The congressman has called on his supporters to back Trump’s efforts to alter trade with China and touted the fact that the President has visited North Dakota to help his campaign.

Eugene Graner, a commodities trader and Cramer campaign surrogate, took issue with criticism of Trump on trade, arguing that the historically low soybean prices are only cyclical fluctuations, not a sign of long-term damage.

“The farmers that are worried don’t understand the big picture. They are living in the now,” Graner said. “Farmers who are concerned should actually be happy.”

Colfax Farmers Elevator employees sweep soybeans into an intake trough during a delivery from the Olson family farm. The soybeans had been sold months before, and their price was not affected by the Trump administration’s trade war with China. Andrew Cullen for CNN

His argument: Trump’s trade negotiations would lead to a better trade environment for farmers and could, eventually, boost their sales to places like China and Southeast Asia.

Not all Republicans agree. The powerful Koch network of conservative groups said earlier this year that they wouldn’t back Cramer with much-needed money because of his trade positions.

Heitkamp, who is usually measured in response to political questions, sighed deeply when asked about Graner’s comments.

That is an ignorant, ignorant statement and it totally ignores that these are people who put hundreds of thousands of dollars at risk every year and they bet on the weather and they bet on commodity prices, but they don’t bet on bad trade policy.

Heidi Heitkamp, when asked about Graner’s comments on trade with China and Southeast Asia

“God almighty,” she said. “That is an ignorant, ignorant statement and it totally ignores that these are people who put hundreds of thousands of dollars at risk every year and they bet on the weather and they bet on commodity prices, but they don’t bet on bad trade policy.”

Living with uncertainty… and 900 cows

Plymouth, Wisconsin

As dairy goes, so goes Wisconsin: Trade fears threaten small town economies

Wisconsin isn’t known as America’s Dairyland for nothing.

Get a little elevation over the cheese factory where Sartori Co. produces award-winning cheese and the state’s nickname becomes clear: Dairy farms dot the surrounding hills, their white-topped barns a sign that milk from hundreds of cows will soon be turned into an array of dairy products, some that end up on shelves as far away as Southeast Asia.

Sartori, run by Jeff Schwager, is at the center of an interconnected web of dairy farmers who anchor the economy of small towns like Plymouth in the eastern part of the state. Sartori employs roughly 550 people and buys milk from 130 family farms within 75 miles of its two rural production facilities. In turn, those employees and farmers spend money from Sartori in the community, helping to keep banks, shops and restaurants employing thousands more people in the surrounding area.

It’s a delicate cycle that has led Plymouth and its vibrant main street to prosper. But as dairy producers and cheese makers face crippling tariffs and trade issues – some caused by President Donald Trump’s trade rhetoric and others by issues that predate the Republican leader – there is a sense that a downturn in the dairy market could mean a downturn for small towns like Plymouth.

With Republican Scott Walker running for a third term as governor, trade has become a political flashpoint. Democratic candidate Tony Evers is faulting Trump for the economic pain and slamming Walker for not standing up to the President when the initial round of tariffs was announced.

Dairy has been a central product in the ongoing trade dispute between Trump and countries like China, Mexico and Canada – three markets that make up over 46% of all dairy exports from Wisconsin, according to the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin.

Some long-term concerns were assuaged when, in early October, the Trump administration and negotiators from Mexico and Canada agreed on updates to NAFTA called the USMCA. Under the original trade deal, Canada limited how much US milk, cheese and other dairy could flow into the country, but under the updated agreement, Canada will increase market access for US dairy, poultry and eggs.

In the short term, though, cheese producers wonder if the bluster was worth it. They continue to worry there is no end in sight with China, and questions remain about how welcome markets in Canada and Mexico will be.

What was a profitable business for us is now not profitable, maybe break even at best, and it is a matter of how long can you go on doing that.

Jeff Schwager, President, Sartori

“We have retaliatory tariffs from Mexico, as well as China, and we are having to pay 20-25% tariffs where Europe has free trade agreements, so we are at a disadvantage,” Schwager said. “What is at stake for us? What was a profitable business for us is now not profitable, maybe break even at best, and it is a matter of how long can you go on doing that.”

For Sartori, which sells its cheese in 49 countries, issues with just one trading partner can mean significant losses. According to Schwager, the company stands to lose $1 million this year if the current trade situation with Mexico continues.

Don’t blame Trump

Democrats across the country are hoping that trade rhetoric and economic uncertainty in industries like dairy could hurt Republicans at the ballot box.

In Wisconsin, though, it appears that these rural voters aren’t prepared to blame the President for the uncertainty they dread. Trump unexpectedly won the state by less than 1 percentage point in 2016 and it appears that many of those men and women are still with him.

But Walker does not seem to be benefiting. Recent polling has shown Evers, the superintendent of public schools in the state, is leading the two-term governor, giving Democrats possibly the best chance to oust the Republican, who ran for President in 2016.

Dean Strauss, the managing partner of his family’s 900-cow farm, wouldn’t disclose who he voted for in 2016, but he defended the President’s trade actions, despite the fact that they have taken a bite out of his bottom line.

“It has been a lot of years in the making, and sometimes you just got to scale things back,” Strauss said, echoing some of Trump’s own messaging. “Let’s start to look at the base and start to take care of the American people.”

He also added that “there are things that obviously had to be done” about trade and that while “uncertainty creates anxiety,” dairy farmers should give the President time to fix the issues.

Schwager was equally measured when it comes to Trump.

“When we look at the current trade situation, I really feel this is built up over decades,” he said. “I think we need to fight it, I think we need fair trade. … But you can question the methodology of how we are getting there.”

People in Sheboygan County, an area that backed the President in 2016, believe their product was targeted because of that support for him. But for Strauss, the reason is more elemental than that.

“When you say Wisconsin, you say cheese. We wear cheese heads to Packers games,” he said, standing among his cows. “It is a big part of our society. It is who we identify with.”

No off button

Strauss lives by the old adage in Wisconsin: You can’t turn off the cows.

So he turned to tech.

In an effort to be on the cutting edge and maintain a more agreeable lifestyle, Strauss invested nearly $2 million in robots that automatically milk his cows for him using a long robotic arm and lasers to target the animals’ udders. It’s a large upfront cost that Strauss hopes pays dividends in the years to come. But with milk prices taking a dive in the face of market uncertainty, Strauss is looking for a way to lock in even small profits to help protect his family’s business.

“As a farmer, I am watching the dairy markets all the time. They are on my phone, your iPad, you are watching it,” he said about the tariffs. “If these tariffs don’t improve, it is going to continue to be tough.”

Strauss, like other dairy producers, is in a precarious position. His product will come whether prices improve or not, meaning some producers are worried there could soon be an overproduction issue if prices slow cheese sales. Earlier this year there were fears of having to use milk as fertilizer, but those concerns have been assuaged and producers are now strictly looking to protect their bottom line.

Strauss and Sartori are inextricably tied together. Every gallon of milk that comes from Strauss’ cows is sold directly to the cheese maker, and turned into one of its stable of flagship products. That means when Sartori is struggling, Strauss is feeling the pain, too.

Strauss, a sixth-generation dairy farmer whose family has been milking cows for over 166 years, knows that the situation is also bigger than his personal experience, especially because over 85% of his expenses are incurred within a 30-mile radius of his farm.

“When things are a little slower from an economic capacity … it can resonate,” he said. “Your hardware store, your feed mill, your veterinarian, they are all part of our community. They are people.”

John Mosbarger, 30, drills wheat on Mosbarger Farms outside of Goodland, Kansas. Benjamin Rasmussen for CNN

Goodland, Kansas

Wheat growers in Kansas stick with Trump over trade – for now

When Alan Townsend moved back home to begin farming in 1974, there were 17 of his great-grandfather’s descendants farming within a roughly 3-mile stretch of his homestead.

Today, he’s the only one left.

That resolve is now being tested here in northwest Kansas, where the conservative roots run as deep as the rich soil. For now, the area’s ties to President Donald Trump remain strong. Many of the growers of hard winter wheat not only believe Trump is the right man to strike an international trade deal but also feel that the pain they may be suffering is worth it for the President to mint the better trade agreements he has long promised.

Their patience is not endless, and they expect to see more action soon. But for a group of people who pride themselves on making a living off the arid land in Sherman County, Trump’s trade war and the corresponding tariffs have become a referendum on the toughness of rural America.

“I don’t think the Chinese have a clue,” said Townsend confidently, leaning over the table at Crazy R’s Bar & Grill.

Alan Townsend, 65, runs Townsend Farms with his 27-year-old son, Ross, outside of Goodland. Benjamin Rasmussen for CNN

Republicans, including Trump, are counting on that sentiment as the rising tariffs dry up markets for American wheat, corn and soybeans across the globe. International wheat sales, according to the US Wheat Associates, are down across the board. At this point last year, China had bought over 720,000 metric tons of American wheat. Today, that number is zero. It’s a similar story in Mexico, where wheat sales are down 27%.

The issue is particularly problematic for Kansas, where 50% of all wheat grown is exported. That fact, along with farming’s already razor-thin margins, has caused some of the area’s growers to speculate that upward of 15% of the region’s farmers – primarily smaller growers – could be forced to sell out.

Politically, Republicans surprisingly have a fight on their hands in the reliably red state. Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a firebrand conservative who is closely tied with Trump, is running in a close race for governor against Democrat Laura Kelly, who has said Republicans in the state need to be held “accountable” for the trade war.

Wheat seeds on Mosbarger Farms outside of Goodland. Benjamin Rasmussen for CNN

Kansas is also consequential in the fight for the House, where two races in the eastern part of the state are considered toss-ups. In a sign of where the contests may be headed, Republicans in Washington see Rep. Kevin Yoder as particularly endangered – so much so that the National Republican Congressional Committee cut off support for the incumbent lawmaker.

Here in rural America there is still the idea that you can work hard and have a good life. That may not be true, but people still believe it.

Brian Linin, a 49-year-old father and 2016 Trump supporter who moved back to the family farm

The atmosphere certainly worries Townsend, who watches wheat prices and the state of his land like a hawk with his 27-year-old son, Ross. But when he looks for someone to blame, the culprit cannot be found at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

“These tariffs are performance-based,” said Townsend, a farmer whose excitement about his profession is obvious to anyone he meets. “If he performs in the next six months, fine. If he don’t, it is not going to be good.”

‘We are suffering’

It’s planting time in Goodland, so tractors followed by looming clouds of brown, powdery soil dot the horizon for miles.

The growers operating those tractors are used to uncertainty – farming is an exercise in faith – but this year the feeling is different.

Ross Townsend drills wheat. Benjamin Rasmussen for CNN

“Here in rural America, there is still the idea that you can work hard and have a good life,” said Brian Linin, a 49-year-old father who moved back nearly two decades ago to farm with his father, Brent. “That may not be true, but people still believe it.”

Linin, the tall, sociable mayor of Goodland, a roughly 4,500-person town near the Kansas-Colorado border, was such a strong Trump supporter in 2016 that he traveled to Washington, DC, to celebrate the President’s inauguration with a few friends. Reflecting on that support, though, Linin acknowledged that respect for Trump in Goodland has colored how farmers here view the trade war.

“It is difficult to separate the political question of where you stand on Trump versus the agriculture question,” he said candidly. “I tend to agree … that Trump’s endgame is going the right way. … But in the meantime, we are suffering.”

Farmer Brent Linin in his field after drilling wheat. Benjamin Rasmussen for CNN

He added: “Trade is killing US wheat. US wheat is out there trying to sell our wheat to the world, and it is a struggle because of the trade.”

But Linin, who is active in Kansas’ wheat trade association, isn’t close to leaving the President over the spat.

“In the heartland, people like his toughness,” he said. “We aren’t just yielding to whatever the world says, we are saying, ‘No, we are America, and this is what we want.’”

Brent Linin, Brian’s father, is just as deep a Trump supporter. He has been farming land around Goodland for 49 years and he laughs at the idea of retiring. He voted for Trump in 2016 and proudly stands by that vote.

“I am trusting him right now,” he said as his wheat drill moved over acres of land at 5 mph, dumping thousands of pounds of tiny wheat seeds. “I think our prices are already so low, so I don’t think they will go much lower, no matter what they do with China or Canada or Mexico. I don’t think it matters.”

He added, as more seeds flowed from the back of his tractor: “We are very close to rock bottom.”

John Mosbarger, 30, fills a combine hopper with wheat seeds while drilling on Mosbarger Farms outside of Goodland. Benjamin Rasmussen for CNN

‘All very new’

People like Brent Linin and Alan Townsend are some of the lucky few who have seen their kids move back to help on the farm, a reversal of a nagging problem in rural America, where most young people leave the homestead and never come back.

Farming is not for the faint of heart, and the charms of Denver and Kansas City, along with steady, less backbreaking work, draw many who graduate from Goodland High School. Much to the chagrin of people like Townsend and the Linins, Goodland has been shrinking since the 1980s.

John Mosbarger is not one of those who fled. Not only did the attentive 30-year-old graduate of Kansas State University come back home from Manhattan, Kansas, to help run his family’s sprawling 32,000-acre farm, but he convinced his wife, Lora, who was raised in Kansas City, to come back with him.

The Mosbarger Farms silo in Goodland. Benjamin Rasmussen for CNN

“This is all very new to me,” Lora said with a chuckle, noting how her father grew up on a farm but left to become a surgeon in the city. “Most people leave the farm now. My dad left and I came back.”

Mosbarger – who said his initial reaction to the tariffs was that farmers needed to “buckle up” – described the tariffs as just another layer of risk in an increasingly risky business: Farmers can’t control the weather, they can’t control their prices and now they can’t control the tariffs, he said.

And all of that could have an impact on his family’s bottom line. According to Mosbarger, his family loses $200,000 every time wheat loses 10 cents on the market. After CNN published this story, Mosbarger said a $200,000 move to his bottom line is actually the effect of a $0.10 move in the corn market, and a $0.40 move in the wheat market would be needed for his family to lose that amount, given they produce nearly 2 million bushels of corn and half a million bushels of wheat on their farm.

“It can do that in a day,” he said.

A billboard of “Wheat Jesus” in Colby, 40 miles from Goodland. Benjamin Rasmussen for CNN

Even still, the young farmer was upbeat when talking about his future.

“Part of that is just crisis management,” he said of farming. “You could be a negative person every second of every day because of how hard farming is.”

Like his neighbors, Mosbarger said he respects the President and believes Trump could strike a deal that benefits his young family. But when asked what he would tell the President about his operation if he were in the office, Mosbarger laughed and struggled to find an answer.

“Do I think he understands the business?” he said with a smile. “Probably enough to be dangerous.”

Orange growers feel Trump’s trade war squeeze

Lindsay, California

Trump’s red wall in California threatens to crack over oranges

California may have branded itself as the home of the resistance to President Donald Trump, but its center – where the bulk of its trademark oranges are grown – is a deep red valley. Of the 14 Republicans Californians sent to Congress in 2016, five represent some part of the San Joaquin Valley.

It’s the agricultural red core – where California’s $800 million orange industry is anchored – that is being directly threatened by the trade war.

Weeks away from the midterm elections, Trump’s standing in the state is more than just a political problem for the President. His party is defending congressional districts throughout the central valley, with Democrats looking to capitalize on anti-Trump sentiment and trade fears to flip seats represented by powerful Republican incumbents.

For Tom and Guy Wollenman, cousins whose family has grown oranges in California for 99 years, the threat of tighter profit margins is also a direct threat to Republicans’ control of the area.

“It has dented his popularity,” Tom Wollenman said matter-of-factly about Trump in the central valley.

It will be his Achilles’ heel. He is less popular in the area than he was two years ago.

Guy Wollenman

“It will be his Achilles’ heel,” Guy Wollenman added. “He is less popular in the area than he was two years ago.”

The Wollenmans are both registered Republicans, but neither voted for Trump or Hillary Clinton in 2016. Tom wrote in a congressman, who he declined to name, while Guy wrote in Ben Carson, Trump’s secretary of housing and urban development and a conservative icon, who had dropped out of the presidential primary race before California voted.

Both Tom and Guy are hopeful that Trump, a man they didn’t back, will be able to turn the trade debate around. But they are deeply worried.

“I am not a happy camper at this point,” Tom Wollenman said. “We have a lot at risk. Anytime we are in a situation and it looks like there is a 50% chance of not getting resolution here, that is a high risk. You don’t want to gamble with that.”

Guy said that growers earlier this year had watched the back and forth with China, comparing it to a bouncing ball, and worried that the citrus industry would be ensnared.

“It was real discouraging,” he said. “About 20% of our farm budget is specifically spent on preparing our fruits for exports.”

For now, though, that pain does not appear to be translating into ballot box success for Democrats.

If these tariffs continue in place… we could probably lose up to $2,000 an acre. That is just profit.

Tom Wollenman

Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, a lawmaker inextricably tied to Trump, is facing a challenge from Democrat Andrew Janz, a prosecutor, in California’s 22nd Congressional District. North of Nunes, Republican Rep. David Valadao is battling Democratic businessman TJ Cox in the state’s 21st Congressional District, and even further north, Democrat Josh Harder is challenging Republican Rep. Jeff Denham.

Two of the districts – Nunes’ and Valadao’s – are likely to stay in Republican control. Denham’s race, due to Harder’s sizable fundraising advantage, is rated a toss-up.

Uncertainty in a GOP stronghold

Republicans look like they are in control of all races in California’s Central Valley, but in an area that centers on the agriculture economy, Republicans in California and nationally are aware that slumps in orange and nut prices could threaten otherwise safe incumbents and, to a degree, Republican control of the House.

A study from the University of California Davis published in August found that orange growers could lose upward of $133 million off their total revenue due to a decline in US prices.

That figure is anecdotally backed up by the Wollenmans.

“If these tariffs continue in place… we could probably lose up to $2,000 an acre,” Tom Wollenman said of his 1,500-acre farm. “That is just profit.”

The man tasked with conveying the concerns of California orange growers to Washington is Joel Nelsen, the president of California Citrus Mutual, the industry’s trade association.

Nelsen said there has been continual “angst” among orange growers. First, it was the scuttling of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, he said, a sweeping multinational trade deal that Trump rejected early in his administration. Farmers were hoping the pact would open markets in Japan and throughout Asia. Then came the dispute with Canada, the primary international market for California oranges, over the North American Free Trade Agreement. And, finally, came the deepening conflict with China, a growing market for California citrus.

In response to that demand, growers in California had even begun to tailor their trees to the Chinese market. After Chinese traders visited the Central Valley and asked for alterations, farmers began cutting away the lowest branches to comport with the country’s standards. Those changes were made, farmers said, with the expectation that the Chinese market would not only continue growing but also could become central to the orange industry in California.

“We spend a lot of extra money solely because we want to access that market,” Guy Wollenman said.

Still, Nelsen believes, growers are prepared to stick with Trump, even if they wish “he would put his tweeter feed away.”

“They have faith in the administration,” he said. “We may not like the way we are getting there. We may not like the rhetoric, we may not like being the innocent victim or unintended consequence to another fight, but we have faith in the administration to do what is right for a business sector such as ours.”

And that is good news for local Republicans, he added.

“They are going to stick with their Republican representative,” Nelsen said. “We don’t want to lose that seniority.”

Melody Shih, Gabe Ramirez and Lacey Russell contributed to this report

Produced by Tal Yellin and Joyce Tseng

In good years, cargo trains moving west along the flat, sweeping grasslands of North Dakota’s plains are a sign of money rolling in.

Today, as tariffs from America’s largest foreign soybean market — China — threaten to upend the industry, many trains sit idle.

“There are no shuttle trains leaving. There is no nothing,” said Joe Ericson, the 38-year-old president of the North Dakota Soybean Growers Association. “They can’t get rid of the beans.”

In conversations with more than 50 farmers, producers and agriculture experts in five states representing each of the five food groups, one trend was clear: The once-deep ties to President Donald Trump have frayed over the past year. But they remain intact for a small majority of farmers CNN spoke with ahead of the critical 2018 midterm elections. Democrats, who see an opening with Trump’s trade war, will likely struggle to make inroads with these voters.

The President gives all of them plenty to complain about. They grumble about his tweeting — that’s not their style — and what his trade war has done to their bottom lines. But if the President’s re-election were held tomorrow, most of them would back him. They trust Trump, and many believe Democrats don’t understand or largely ignore their way of life.

Still, Trump’s deep support in rural America, which helped propel him to the White House in 2016, is being tested. The wheat farmers, soybean growers and pork producers confront a growing trade war that is forcing them to re-evaluate their ties to the President’s Republican Party and openly question whether his mantra to “Make America Great Again” came at the expense of voters like them.

How a trade war with China hurts US farmers

Ericson, a broad-shouldered and blunt soybean grower who voted for Trump in 2016, said the uncertainty in the soybean market has left growers in peril.

“A lot of people say we are the pawns in the game,” Ericson said on his 2,500-acre soybean farm in Wimbledon, a town of roughly 200 in eastern North Dakota. “And pawns are never left on the board at the end of the game.”

Trump ran on a pledge to get tough on trade deals, and he has tried to deliver. But actions have reactions, and the President’s decision to impose tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminum has prompted China to impose billions of dollars in counter-tariffs on imports from the United States. Products once destined for China are getting left in the US because they’re now too expensive, flooding the domestic market with soybeans, pork and other products and in turn driving down prices for farmers.

These men and women, who pride themselves on their ability to make a living off the land, see the trade war that is hurting their bottom lines as a referendum on their toughness.

I don’t think the Chinese have any clue the staying power that the heartland of this country has.

Alan Townsend

“I don’t think the Chinese have any clue the staying power that the heartland of this country has,” said Alan Townsend, a wheat farmer from northwest Kansas who proudly backed Trump the moment he launched his campaign.

These growers worry as rounds of tariffs drive down sales and profits. And they are conflicted about the Trump administration’s aid package to limit farmers’ losses, something one grower called “a $12 billion acknowledgement that he hurt us.”

Most have lived their entire lives decrying what they see as welfare and believe that Trump’s plan is exactly that. Others were perplexed by how federal funds that won’t come close to making up for their losses would reach their farmsteads. But all acknowledged the federal money propping up the price of soybeans, corn and pork would indirectly help them avoid bankruptcy.

“Do I want an aid package? No. I really don’t,” said Trent Thiele, a pork farmer from Elma, Iowa. “I’d just as soon have fair and free trade for everybody.”

A small majority of these farmers said they didn’t plan to punish the President for the trade war at the ballot box in November and even more said they would still vote for him if he were on the ballot himself.

But they worry their way of life may not survive for the next generation.

The financial pressures have forced farmers to consider directing their sons and daughters into other businesses, fearing they won’t make it in farming. Families struggle as young people flee to nearby cities shortly after they graduate high school, leaving an aging population behind. And towns grapple with the trend toward larger, more corporate farms as family outfits sell in the face of adversity.

“It is going to make it really hard for the next generation to come back and farm right now,” said Thiele on his Iowa farm as his 12-year-old son, Clayton, worked nearby. “If we don’t get it fixed before he gets of age, it is going to be tough for him to come back and farm with me.”

What follows is a political portrait of rural America at a time of great uncertainty, just two years removed from an election that some farmers believed would turn the tide for their way of life.

Family’s pork farm at risk as tariffs sink prices

Elma, Iowa

Pork producers fear Trump’s trade war could end their way of life

Trent Thiele isn’t a fighter. But as tariffs sink pork prices on the roughly 80,000 hogs he sells each year, the hulking pork producer here in northeast Iowa is preparing for a fight.

Thiele’s livelihood has become collateral damage in a trade war far bigger than his farm or his family of five. Chinese tariffs on US pork, along with trade disputes with Mexico and Canada, have depressed the hog market, and producers like Thiele say they are now making roughly 33% less per hog they raise.

That dip could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses for Thiele this year, and the uncertainty has already forced him to stop an expansion he had planned for this year.

Democrats in the state hope the losses under a Republican President will cause some swing voters to tilt toward their party in 2018, where the race to represent Iowa’s 1st Congressional District and a competitive gubernatorial contest have focused on trade.

It’s not that simple, though. Farmers, many of whom backed Donald Trump in 2016, believed – and still do – that he has a plan on trade. But their livelihood is on the line and time is running out.

“This President is the most unique President of my lifetime,” said David Struthers, a hog producer who, like others in the area, voted for Trump. “To punish a Republican, I don’t think that is a good idea.”

This President is the most unique President of my lifetime. To punish a Republican, I don’t think that is a good idea.

David Struthers, hog producer who voted for Trump in 2016

He added: “We trust, for the most part … the President is going to figure things out and make it work out.”

In the near term, farmers like Thiele said their farms should survive the depressed prices by tightening the family budgets. Many farmers in Iowa remain sympathetic to Trump’s goals, despite the damage that has had on their bottom lines. And some even believe their pain is worth helping other sectors of the American economy like steel and manufacturing.

But Thiele’s altruism dissipates when he starts to think about the next generation of American farmers.

On the line, Thiele said, is whether his son embraces the 5 a.m. wake-up calls, arduous labor and fear of uncertainty that he has come to relish.

The generational handover is what farmers like Thiele fear most. Their belief: If farming’s razor-thin margins shrink, the lifestyle they have enjoyed their entire lives may be forever changed. This cycle could alter the face of places like Elma, Iowa, and further accelerate the decline of the family farmer.

“It is going to make it really hard for the next generation to come back and farm right now,” Thiele told CNN, standing with his 12-year old son, Clayton. “If we don’t get it fixed before he gets of age, it is going to be tough for him to come back and farm with me.”

There is data to back up these fears. The number of farms, according to the US Department of Agriculture, has steadily declined for decades, while the average size of farms has steadily increased, meaning smaller family farms are being sold off to corporate farmsteads.

“None of us want to create something that ends with us,” said Thiele, an optimist who, in candid moments, admits that the current state of affairs gets him down “every day.”

“But that is the way it is,” he added. “No matter what job you are in, or what profession you are in, you’ve got good days and bad days. And right now, it just seems to be one of the times where it is a little tougher.”

The politics of pork

Trump bested Hillary Clinton in Iowa by over 9 percentage points on the backs of rural voters. The 2016 election was a boon for congressional Republicans, too: All four Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation held their seats.

Democrats hope 2018 will be a different story, and they are using trade as a wedge issue to split rural voters from lawmakers like Republican Rep. Rod Blum, who thanked Trump for the trade negotiations at a roundtable with the President earlier this year.

“Thank you for having political courage to renegotiate these trade deals, which quite frankly are not good to the United States,” Blum said, sitting next to the President in Dubuque, Iowa. “You’ve taken some heat for it in the short term, but in the long run, the farmers, the manufacturers, the employers are all going to be better off.”

Abby Finkenauer, the Democrat running to unseat Blum in Iowa’s 1st Congressional District, has made trade central to her 2018 message. She said Blum’s laudatory comments floored her.

“Shocked me, honestly,” she told CNN. “And to really be honest, (it) broke my heart a little bit.”

The race between Blum, who declined an interview with CNN, and Finkenauer, the 29-year-old daughter of a union worker who is vying to be one of the youngest members of Congress, is the clearest dividing line on trade. CNN rates the race as lean Democratic.

“You’ve got folks right now waking up all across this district and all across the state right now worried about their future,” Finkenauer said. “You’ve got an administration that started a trade war on Twitter, and the instability of that and the concern that comes with that is truly being felt here in Iowa.”

Eager for a fix

Iowa is the largest pork-producing state in the country, with nearly $1.1 billion worth of pork being exported from the state in 2017, according to the Iowa Pork Producers Association.

The back roads of Elma and communities throughout Iowa may seem a world away from growing pork markets in China, Canada and Mexico, but the future of pork producing is now directly tied to those international markets. Mexico and Canada are some of the biggest buyers of Iowan pork, and China, whose rising middle class now has the money to feed its growing taste for pork in recent years, has become a burgeoning market for the industry, buying more than $660 million worth of American pork in 2017.

That’s big money for the state, meaning Thiele is far from the only pork producer eager for a quick solution to the trade war.

Al Wulfekuhle, a farmer with 40 years of experience in the pork producing business, said he worries “every day about making ends meet” and hopes the President understands how time is of the essence when it comes to addressing trade issues.

“When you have a period like this when things look devastating, and there is no other word for it … you really start worrying how you are going to make ends meet and how much money can you lose and how long the bankers will stay with you,” he said. “It is psychological.”

Wulfekuhle, who sells around 40,000 hogs a year over a dozen different sites around Quasqueton, Iowa, said farmers are willing to give Trump a little leeway on trade negotiations but warned that the impact the negotiations have on future prices could change that sentiment quickly.

Hog producers regularly lock in their prices before the hog is fully grown, meaning they are using the future prices to sign contracts on a certain amount of pigs they raise. When the future price is low, it’s nearly impossible for the pork producers to lock in prices that give them any profit. With future prices hovering around $60 per 100 pounds, Wulfekuhle said he regularly feels like he and other producers are “looking off the edge of a cliff right now.”

“If we actually get that cheap for the average producer,” Wulfekuhle said, “I don’t know how long you can survive that. … When you look at losses of that magnitude, it can happen fairly quickly. Within a few months, things can turn.”

Soybean farmer Craig Olson prepares a combine harvester on his farm in Colfax, North Dakota, with his 7-year-old son, Carter. Andrew Cullen for CNN

Wimbledon, North Dakota

‘Collateral damage’: A soybean slump threatens to upend key Senate race

Timing is of the essence on the windswept plains of North Dakota: Soybeans are harvested in the fall, meaning growers are now taking stock of how tariffs will affect their crop weeks before the 2018 elections.

North Dakota – the fourth-largest state in soybean acres planted and harvested, according to the North Dakota Soybean Council – is particularly relevant in the fight over trade because of Sen. Heidi Heitkamp’s battle to keep her seat in a state President Donald Trump won by more than 36 percentage points in 2016. Rep. Kevin Cramer is challenging Heitkamp by tying himself to the President, a strategy complicated by the fact that Trump’s trade actions are straining each farm’s bottom line.

Heitkamp is now considered the most vulnerable Democratic senator in the country, with Cramer seen as the favorite in the race.

Fields of corn and soybeans grow beyond the Olson family farm in Colfax. Andrew Cullen for CNN

The trade fight is particularly relevant in North Dakota because of its proximity to the Pacific Northwest: While roughly a third of all soybeans harvested in the United States end up in China, the ratio is even higher in North Dakota because its train lines head to Asian-focused ports on the Pacific and buyers in Indonesia, Taiwan and, most importantly, China.

The uncertainty in the Chinese market has crushed the soybean price, which hit a 10-year low earlier this year. Prices have continued to dip, and soybean growers across North Dakota are facing six-figure losses if the market doesn’t rebound by the time they harvest later this year, causing some growers to reconsider their support for Trump and other Republicans ahead of the 2018 midterms.

“It could hurt Cramer,” said Joe Ericson, the president of the North Dakota Soybean Growers Association. “With Cramer tying his boat to Trump, that could hurt him.”

Soybeans fill a trailer from the Olson family farm. Andrew Cullen for CNN

What is success?

The longer soybean prices sink, the more difficult it is for farmers to lock in profitable prices for their haul.

This hurts not only their farms, but also a whole host of industries – grain elevators, local hardware stores, oil and gas suppliers – that are directly affected by the success or failure of farmers. And their concern is that if trade disputes drag on, China will begin looking toward South American countries like Brazil for a more stable supply of soybeans.

There is also a timing problem for Republicans in the state: Every grower CNN interviewed said their view would darken if the prices stayed low during the harvest season.

Monte Peterson, a North Dakota farmer and active member of several state and national soybean trade organizations, is concerned that tariffs on soybeans and other agricultural products will hurt North Dakota farmers. Andrew Cullen for CNN

“My big picture is if China is not buying more beans than they were before, then it is not helping us,” said Monte Peterson, standing in bluff-rimmed soybean fields. “For this to work out, they have to buy more than they were before, not equal to what they were doing because now I have lost this.”

My big picture is if China is not buying more beans than they were before, then it is not helping us.

Monte Peterson

Peterson voted for Trump in 2016, and he paused when asked if he regrets it.

“I am wondering about that vote,” he said, adding that his regret “really hinges on the way these trade negotiations turn out” because he questions “the method by which we are negotiating trade right now.”

Craig Olson, a multi-generational grower in Colfax, was less conflicted.

Craig Olson checks a message about the soybean market on his cell phone in the yard of his family farm. Andrew Cullen for CNN

The Republican voter, who said he plans to vote for Cramer in November, said he still supports the President and is prepared to give him considerable leeway in a trade war, even if it impacts his bottom line.

“You know what, he campaigned that he was going to help America with its products and this is a byproduct,” Olson said. “It was his campaign promise to help the steelworkers and the other workers in the United States, and the consequences are that it affects soybean farmers.”

He added: “I see where he’s coming from and what he’s trying to do.”

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp is running a close re-election campaign this fall. She has criticized the Trump administration’s tariffs, which have hurt North Dakota’s agricultural sector and soybean growers in particular – a key component of her campaign against Rep. Kevin Cramer, a North Dakota Republican who has aligned himself closely with Trump. Andrew Cullen for CNN

Justin Sherlock, the mayor of 90-person Dazey, North Dakota, didn’t vote for Trump. He now stands firmer in that view given the burgeoning trade war.

“Trump scared me from the beginning. I was worried about this reckless, cowboy mentality and I was worried we would get into situations like this,” he said. “I didn’t expect it to be at this level.”

Sherlock, who began farming in 2013 after his father passed away in 2012, called the trade war a “disaster” for farmers, especially because most growers have had “several tough years.”

Sherlock is in the minority. And he knows it. But the small-town mayor said in private moments he is starting to hear Trump supporters worry about his presidency and compare him to former President Jimmy Carter, whose grain embargo of the Soviet Union in 1980 caused the wheat market to tank.

Can soybeans save a senator?

Running as a Democrat in North Dakota months after Trump swept the state is a difficult proposition, forcing Heitkamp to be cautious about how – and when – she criticizes the President.

And trade is no different: Heitkamp has been upfront and outspoken about her opposition to Trump’s trade practices and made her disagreement central to her campaign. But the senator has taken a more guarded position on the Trump administration’s aid package to farmers – much of which has been set aside for soybeans – and hasn’t targeted the President with the same animosity she has saved for Cramer.

“I think I have been very clear that I disagree with the President’s position on trade,” Heitkamp said in an interview with CNN shortly before she took on her opponent. “Congressman Cramer has decided that he is going to be with the President 100% of the time, no matter what the consequences to North Dakota.”

The Richland Colts varsity football team practices on the school field across the street from the Colfax Farmers Elevator in Colfax, North Dakota. Owned by a group of several dozen local farmers, the elevator stores and sells locally produced grains. Andrew Cullen for CNN

Cramer, who declined to be interviewed for this story, has stood by the President throughout his Senate run, even while he has acknowledged some frustration on behalf of growers in North Dakota. The congressman has called on his supporters to back Trump’s efforts to alter trade with China and touted the fact that the President has visited North Dakota to help his campaign.

Eugene Graner, a commodities trader and Cramer campaign surrogate, took issue with criticism of Trump on trade, arguing that the historically low soybean prices are only cyclical fluctuations, not a sign of long-term damage.

“The farmers that are worried don’t understand the big picture. They are living in the now,” Graner said. “Farmers who are concerned should actually be happy.”

Colfax Farmers Elevator employees sweep soybeans into an intake trough during a delivery from the Olson family farm. The soybeans had been sold months before, and their price was not affected by the Trump administration’s trade war with China. Andrew Cullen for CNN

His argument: Trump’s trade negotiations would lead to a better trade environment for farmers and could, eventually, boost their sales to places like China and Southeast Asia.

Not all Republicans agree. The powerful Koch network of conservative groups said earlier this year that they wouldn’t back Cramer with much-needed money because of his trade positions.

Heitkamp, who is usually measured in response to political questions, sighed deeply when asked about Graner’s comments.

That is an ignorant, ignorant statement and it totally ignores that these are people who put hundreds of thousands of dollars at risk every year and they bet on the weather and they bet on commodity prices, but they don’t bet on bad trade policy.

Heidi Heitkamp, when asked about Graner’s comments on trade with China and Southeast Asia

“God almighty,” she said. “That is an ignorant, ignorant statement and it totally ignores that these are people who put hundreds of thousands of dollars at risk every year and they bet on the weather and they bet on commodity prices, but they don’t bet on bad trade policy.”

Living with uncertainty… and 900 cows

Plymouth, Wisconsin

As dairy goes, so goes Wisconsin: Trade fears threaten small town economies

Wisconsin isn’t known as America’s Dairyland for nothing.

Get a little elevation over the cheese factory where Sartori Co. produces award-winning cheese and the state’s nickname becomes clear: Dairy farms dot the surrounding hills, their white-topped barns a sign that milk from hundreds of cows will soon be turned into an array of dairy products, some that end up on shelves as far away as Southeast Asia.

Sartori, run by Jeff Schwager, is at the center of an interconnected web of dairy farmers who anchor the economy of small towns like Plymouth in the eastern part of the state. Sartori employs roughly 550 people and buys milk from 130 family farms within 75 miles of its two rural production facilities. In turn, those employees and farmers spend money from Sartori in the community, helping to keep banks, shops and restaurants employing thousands more people in the surrounding area.

It’s a delicate cycle that has led Plymouth and its vibrant main street to prosper. But as dairy producers and cheese makers face crippling tariffs and trade issues – some caused by President Donald Trump’s trade rhetoric and others by issues that predate the Republican leader – there is a sense that a downturn in the dairy market could mean a downturn for small towns like Plymouth.

With Republican Scott Walker running for a third term as governor, trade has become a political flashpoint. Democratic candidate Tony Evers is faulting Trump for the economic pain and slamming Walker for not standing up to the President when the initial round of tariffs was announced.

Dairy has been a central product in the ongoing trade dispute between Trump and countries like China, Mexico and Canada – three markets that make up over 46% of all dairy exports from Wisconsin, according to the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin.

Some long-term concerns were assuaged when, in early October, the Trump administration and negotiators from Mexico and Canada agreed on updates to NAFTA called the USMCA. Under the original trade deal, Canada limited how much US milk, cheese and other dairy could flow into the country, but under the updated agreement, Canada will increase market access for US dairy, poultry and eggs.

In the short term, though, cheese producers wonder if the bluster was worth it. They continue to worry there is no end in sight with China, and questions remain about how welcome markets in Canada and Mexico will be.

What was a profitable business for us is now not profitable, maybe break even at best, and it is a matter of how long can you go on doing that.

Jeff Schwager, President, Sartori

“We have retaliatory tariffs from Mexico, as well as China, and we are having to pay 20-25% tariffs where Europe has free trade agreements, so we are at a disadvantage,” Schwager said. “What is at stake for us? What was a profitable business for us is now not profitable, maybe break even at best, and it is a matter of how long can you go on doing that.”

For Sartori, which sells its cheese in 49 countries, issues with just one trading partner can mean significant losses. According to Schwager, the company stands to lose $1 million this year if the current trade situation with Mexico continues.

Don’t blame Trump

Democrats across the country are hoping that trade rhetoric and economic uncertainty in industries like dairy could hurt Republicans at the ballot box.

In Wisconsin, though, it appears that these rural voters aren’t prepared to blame the President for the uncertainty they dread. Trump unexpectedly won the state by less than 1 percentage point in 2016 and it appears that many of those men and women are still with him.

But Walker does not seem to be benefiting. Recent polling has shown Evers, the superintendent of public schools in the state, is leading the two-term governor, giving Democrats possibly the best chance to oust the Republican, who ran for President in 2016.

Dean Strauss, the managing partner of his family’s 900-cow farm, wouldn’t disclose who he voted for in 2016, but he defended the President’s trade actions, despite the fact that they have taken a bite out of his bottom line.

“It has been a lot of years in the making, and sometimes you just got to scale things back,” Strauss said, echoing some of Trump’s own messaging. “Let’s start to look at the base and start to take care of the American people.”

He also added that “there are things that obviously had to be done” about trade and that while “uncertainty creates anxiety,” dairy farmers should give the President time to fix the issues.

Schwager was equally measured when it comes to Trump.

“When we look at the current trade situation, I really feel this is built up over decades,” he said. “I think we need to fight it, I think we need fair trade. … But you can question the methodology of how we are getting there.”

People in Sheboygan County, an area that backed the President in 2016, believe their product was targeted because of that support for him. But for Strauss, the reason is more elemental than that.

“When you say Wisconsin, you say cheese. We wear cheese heads to Packers games,” he said, standing among his cows. “It is a big part of our society. It is who we identify with.”

No off button

Strauss lives by the old adage in Wisconsin: You can’t turn off the cows.

So he turned to tech.

In an effort to be on the cutting edge and maintain a more agreeable lifestyle, Strauss invested nearly $2 million in robots that automatically milk his cows for him using a long robotic arm and lasers to target the animals’ udders. It’s a large upfront cost that Strauss hopes pays dividends in the years to come. But with milk prices taking a dive in the face of market uncertainty, Strauss is looking for a way to lock in even small profits to help protect his family’s business.

“As a farmer, I am watching the dairy markets all the time. They are on my phone, your iPad, you are watching it,” he said about the tariffs. “If these tariffs don’t improve, it is going to continue to be tough.”

Strauss, like other dairy producers, is in a precarious position. His product will come whether prices improve or not, meaning some producers are worried there could soon be an overproduction issue if prices slow cheese sales. Earlier this year there were fears of having to use milk as fertilizer, but those concerns have been assuaged and producers are now strictly looking to protect their bottom line.

Strauss and Sartori are inextricably tied together. Every gallon of milk that comes from Strauss’ cows is sold directly to the cheese maker, and turned into one of its stable of flagship products. That means when Sartori is struggling, Strauss is feeling the pain, too.

Strauss, a sixth-generation dairy farmer whose family has been milking cows for over 166 years, knows that the situation is also bigger than his personal experience, especially because over 85% of his expenses are incurred within a 30-mile radius of his farm.

“When things are a little slower from an economic capacity … it can resonate,” he said. “Your hardware store, your feed mill, your veterinarian, they are all part of our community. They are people.”

John Mosbarger, 30, drills wheat on Mosbarger Farms outside of Goodland, Kansas. Benjamin Rasmussen for CNN

Goodland, Kansas

Wheat growers in Kansas stick with Trump over trade – for now

When Alan Townsend moved back home to begin farming in 1974, there were 17 of his great-grandfather’s descendants farming within a roughly 3-mile stretch of his homestead.

Today, he’s the only one left.

That resolve is now being tested here in northwest Kansas, where the conservative roots run as deep as the rich soil. For now, the area’s ties to President Donald Trump remain strong. Many of the growers of hard winter wheat not only believe Trump is the right man to strike an international trade deal but also feel that the pain they may be suffering is worth it for the President to mint the better trade agreements he has long promised.

Their patience is not endless, and they expect to see more action soon. But for a group of people who pride themselves on making a living off the arid land in Sherman County, Trump’s trade war and the corresponding tariffs have become a referendum on the toughness of rural America.

“I don’t think the Chinese have a clue,” said Townsend confidently, leaning over the table at Crazy R’s Bar & Grill.

Alan Townsend, 65, runs Townsend Farms with his 27-year-old son, Ross, outside of Goodland. Benjamin Rasmussen for CNN

Republicans, including Trump, are counting on that sentiment as the rising tariffs dry up markets for American wheat, corn and soybeans across the globe. International wheat sales, according to the US Wheat Associates, are down across the board. At this point last year, China had bought over 720,000 metric tons of American wheat. Today, that number is zero. It’s a similar story in Mexico, where wheat sales are down 27%.

The issue is particularly problematic for Kansas, where 50% of all wheat grown is exported. That fact, along with farming’s already razor-thin margins, has caused some of the area’s growers to speculate that upward of 15% of the region’s farmers – primarily smaller growers – could be forced to sell out.

Politically, Republicans surprisingly have a fight on their hands in the reliably red state. Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a firebrand conservative who is closely tied with Trump, is running in a close race for governor against Democrat Laura Kelly, who has said Republicans in the state need to be held “accountable” for the trade war.

Wheat seeds on Mosbarger Farms outside of Goodland. Benjamin Rasmussen for CNN

Kansas is also consequential in the fight for the House, where two races in the eastern part of the state are considered toss-ups. In a sign of where the contests may be headed, Republicans in Washington see Rep. Kevin Yoder as particularly endangered – so much so that the National Republican Congressional Committee cut off support for the incumbent lawmaker.

Here in rural America there is still the idea that you can work hard and have a good life. That may not be true, but people still believe it.

Brian Linin, a 49-year-old father and 2016 Trump supporter who moved back to the family farm

The atmosphere certainly worries Townsend, who watches wheat prices and the state of his land like a hawk with his 27-year-old son, Ross. But when he looks for someone to blame, the culprit cannot be found at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

“These tariffs are performance-based,” said Townsend, a farmer whose excitement about his profession is obvious to anyone he meets. “If he performs in the next six months, fine. If he don’t, it is not going to be good.”

‘We are suffering’

It’s planting time in Goodland, so tractors followed by looming clouds of brown, powdery soil dot the horizon for miles.

The growers operating those tractors are used to uncertainty – farming is an exercise in faith – but this year the feeling is different.

Ross Townsend drills wheat. Benjamin Rasmussen for CNN

“Here in rural America, there is still the idea that you can work hard and have a good life,” said Brian Linin, a 49-year-old father who moved back nearly two decades ago to farm with his father, Brent. “That may not be true, but people still believe it.”

Linin, the tall, sociable mayor of Goodland, a roughly 4,500-person town near the Kansas-Colorado border, was such a strong Trump supporter in 2016 that he traveled to Washington, DC, to celebrate the President’s inauguration with a few friends. Reflecting on that support, though, Linin acknowledged that respect for Trump in Goodland has colored how farmers here view the trade war.

“It is difficult to separate the political question of where you stand on Trump versus the agriculture question,” he said candidly. “I tend to agree … that Trump’s endgame is going the right way. … But in the meantime, we are suffering.”

Farmer Brent Linin in his field after drilling wheat. Benjamin Rasmussen for CNN

He added: “Trade is killing US wheat. US wheat is out there trying to sell our wheat to the world, and it is a struggle because of the trade.”

But Linin, who is active in Kansas’ wheat trade association, isn’t close to leaving the President over the spat.

“In the heartland, people like his toughness,” he said. “We aren’t just yielding to whatever the world says, we are saying, ‘No, we are America, and this is what we want.’”

Brent Linin, Brian’s father, is just as deep a Trump supporter. He has been farming land around Goodland for 49 years and he laughs at the idea of retiring. He voted for Trump in 2016 and proudly stands by that vote.

“I am trusting him right now,” he said as his wheat drill moved over acres of land at 5 mph, dumping thousands of pounds of tiny wheat seeds. “I think our prices are already so low, so I don’t think they will go much lower, no matter what they do with China or Canada or Mexico. I don’t think it matters.”

He added, as more seeds flowed from the back of his tractor: “We are very close to rock bottom.”

John Mosbarger, 30, fills a combine hopper with wheat seeds while drilling on Mosbarger Farms outside of Goodland. Benjamin Rasmussen for CNN

‘All very new’

People like Brent Linin and Alan Townsend are some of the lucky few who have seen their kids move back to help on the farm, a reversal of a nagging problem in rural America, where most young people leave the homestead and never come back.

Farming is not for the faint of heart, and the charms of Denver and Kansas City, along with steady, less backbreaking work, draw many who graduate from Goodland High School. Much to the chagrin of people like Townsend and the Linins, Goodland has been shrinking since the 1980s.

John Mosbarger is not one of those who fled. Not only did the attentive 30-year-old graduate of Kansas State University come back home from Manhattan, Kansas, to help run his family’s sprawling 32,000-acre farm, but he convinced his wife, Lora, who was raised in Kansas City, to come back with him.

The Mosbarger Farms silo in Goodland. Benjamin Rasmussen for CNN

“This is all very new to me,” Lora said with a chuckle, noting how her father grew up on a farm but left to become a surgeon in the city. “Most people leave the farm now. My dad left and I came back.”

Mosbarger – who said his initial reaction to the tariffs was that farmers needed to “buckle up” – described the tariffs as just another layer of risk in an increasingly risky business: Farmers can’t control the weather, they can’t control their prices and now they can’t control the tariffs, he said.

And all of that could have an impact on his family’s bottom line. According to Mosbarger, his family loses $200,000 every time wheat loses 10 cents on the market. After CNN published this story, Mosbarger said a $200,000 move to his bottom line is actually the effect of a $0.10 move in the corn market, and a $0.40 move in the wheat market would be needed for his family to lose that amount, given they produce nearly 2 million bushels of corn and half a million bushels of wheat on their farm.

“It can do that in a day,” he said.

A billboard of “Wheat Jesus” in Colby, 40 miles from Goodland. Benjamin Rasmussen for CNN

Even still, the young farmer was upbeat when talking about his future.

“Part of that is just crisis management,” he said of farming. “You could be a negative person every second of every day because of how hard farming is.”

Like his neighbors, Mosbarger said he respects the President and believes Trump could strike a deal that benefits his young family. But when asked what he would tell the President about his operation if he were in the office, Mosbarger laughed and struggled to find an answer.

“Do I think he understands the business?” he said with a smile. “Probably enough to be dangerous.”

Orange growers feel Trump’s trade war squeeze

Lindsay, California

Trump’s red wall in California threatens to crack over oranges

California may have branded itself as the home of the resistance to President Donald Trump, but its center – where the bulk of its trademark oranges are grown – is a deep red valley. Of the 14 Republicans Californians sent to Congress in 2016, five represent some part of the San Joaquin Valley.

It’s the agricultural red core – where California’s $800 million orange industry is anchored – that is being directly threatened by the trade war.

Weeks away from the midterm elections, Trump’s standing in the state is more than just a political problem for the President. His party is defending congressional districts throughout the central valley, with Democrats looking to capitalize on anti-Trump sentiment and trade fears to flip seats represented by powerful Republican incumbents.

For Tom and Guy Wollenman, cousins whose family has grown oranges in California for 99 years, the threat of tighter profit margins is also a direct threat to Republicans’ control of the area.

“It has dented his popularity,” Tom Wollenman said matter-of-factly about Trump in the central valley.

It will be his Achilles’ heel. He is less popular in the area than he was two years ago.

Guy Wollenman

“It will be his Achilles’ heel,” Guy Wollenman added. “He is less popular in the area than he was two years ago.”

The Wollenmans are both registered Republicans, but neither voted for Trump or Hillary Clinton in 2016. Tom wrote in a congressman, who he declined to name, while Guy wrote in Ben Carson, Trump’s secretary of housing and urban development and a conservative icon, who had dropped out of the presidential primary race before California voted.

Both Tom and Guy are hopeful that Trump, a man they didn’t back, will be able to turn the trade debate around. But they are deeply worried.

“I am not a happy camper at this point,” Tom Wollenman said. “We have a lot at risk. Anytime we are in a situation and it looks like there is a 50% chance of not getting resolution here, that is a high risk. You don’t want to gamble with that.”

Guy said that growers earlier this year had watched the back and forth with China, comparing it to a bouncing ball, and worried that the citrus industry would be ensnared.

“It was real discouraging,” he said. “About 20% of our farm budget is specifically spent on preparing our fruits for exports.”

For now, though, that pain does not appear to be translating into ballot box success for Democrats.

If these tariffs continue in place… we could probably lose up to $2,000 an acre. That is just profit.

Tom Wollenman

Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, a lawmaker inextricably tied to Trump, is facing a challenge from Democrat Andrew Janz, a prosecutor, in California’s 22nd Congressional District. North of Nunes, Republican Rep. David Valadao is battling Democratic businessman TJ Cox in the state’s 21st Congressional District, and even further north, Democrat Josh Harder is challenging Republican Rep. Jeff Denham.

Two of the districts – Nunes’ and Valadao’s – are likely to stay in Republican control. Denham’s race, due to Harder’s sizable fundraising advantage, is rated a toss-up.

Uncertainty in a GOP stronghold

Republicans look like they are in control of all races in California’s Central Valley, but in an area that centers on the agriculture economy, Republicans in California and nationally are aware that slumps in orange and nut prices could threaten otherwise safe incumbents and, to a degree, Republican control of the House.

A study from the University of California Davis published in August found that orange growers could lose upward of $133 million off their total revenue due to a decline in US prices.

That figure is anecdotally backed up by the Wollenmans.

“If these tariffs continue in place… we could probably lose up to $2,000 an acre,” Tom Wollenman said of his 1,500-acre farm. “That is just profit.”

The man tasked with conveying the concerns of California orange growers to Washington is Joel Nelsen, the president of California Citrus Mutual, the industry’s trade association.

Nelsen said there has been continual “angst” among orange growers. First, it was the scuttling of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, he said, a sweeping multinational trade deal that Trump rejected early in his administration. Farmers were hoping the pact would open markets in Japan and throughout Asia. Then came the dispute with Canada, the primary international market for California oranges, over the North American Free Trade Agreement. And, finally, came the deepening conflict with China, a growing market for California citrus.

In response to that demand, growers in California had even begun to tailor their trees to the Chinese market. After Chinese traders visited the Central Valley and asked for alterations, farmers began cutting away the lowest branches to comport with the country’s standards. Those changes were made, farmers said, with the expectation that the Chinese market would not only continue growing but also could become central to the orange industry in California.

“We spend a lot of extra money solely because we want to access that market,” Guy Wollenman said.

Still, Nelsen believes, growers are prepared to stick with Trump, even if they wish “he would put his tweeter feed away.”

“They have faith in the administration,” he said. “We may not like the way we are getting there. We may not like the rhetoric, we may not like being the innocent victim or unintended consequence to another fight, but we have faith in the administration to do what is right for a business sector such as ours.”

And that is good news for local Republicans, he added.

“They are going to stick with their Republican representative,” Nelsen said. “We don’t want to lose that seniority.”

Melody Shih, Gabe Ramirez and Lacey Russell contributed to this report

Produced by Tal Yellin and Joyce Tseng

But after the massacre at the Pittsburgh house of worship, synagogues like it aren’t taking any chances.
Several states have increased police presence at religious institutions. And religious leaders are grappling with the delicate balance between welcoming and wary.

Debating armed guards at synagogues

Soon after the attack, President Donald Trump said the shooter could have been stopped if Tree of Life had armed guards. He suggested holy places might want to consider such protection.
“They had a maniac walk in and they didn’t have any protection and that is just so sad to see,” he said.
It’s often a difficult decision to make, said Eric Robbins, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation in Atlanta.
“Trying to find a balance between being welcoming to a community and security is a difficult balance to find,” he told CNN.
And every synagogue is different when it comes to safety, he said.
“My synagogue has armed security guards, many of them do.”
A SWAT police officer and other first responders respond after a gunman opened fire at the Tree of Life synagogue

Increasing police presence

The federation tweeted earlier today that it has already heightened security in the Atlanta community after the Pittsburgh attack.
In Florida, Governor Rick Scott also said he will increase state trooper patrols at houses of worship across the state. He also directed local police departments to determine how to boost safety precautions in religious communities.
“There is no place in America for intolerance and violence, and we will do everything in our power to protect Floridians who are peacefully gathered to worship,” he said. “As Governor, I will take any action necessary to protect our communities. Everyone deserves to be able to express their religious freedom safely and peacefully.”
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo also issued a statement directing state police to increase patrols. New York is home to one of the country’s largest Jewish communities.
“We as a nation, must stand together and stand against the corrosive and destructive forces of hate in all of its forms,” he said.
Authorities do not believe there is an ongoing threat to other synagogues in the Pittsburgh area, but law enforcement there is on alert.

No prior threats at Tree of Life

At Tree of Life synagogue, three simultaneous Shabbat services take place in the main part of the building on Saturdays.
The synagogue had not received any threats, but former president of the congregation Michael Eisenberg said he kept a watchful eye “because of what’s going on in the current climate.”
“You see these bombs being mailed across the country,” he said. “And our security was really just that, nobody has ever tried. It was just the fact that nobody ever tried to do anything. Like most religious institutions, we have an open door.”
Chuck Diamond, a former rabbi at Tree of Life, said survival may have come down to those who arrived on time for services and those who didn’t.
“Jews come late for services, so for a lot of people that’s probably a good thing today,” he said.
After all, it was Mister Rogers’ neighborhood.
The television icon and puppeteer and his family attended Sixth Presbyterian Church, which is just a 10-minute walk from Tree of Life, the synagogue targeted Saturday.
“It’s a wonderful Jewish community,” said Chuck Diamond, former rabbi at Tree of Life.
Fred Rogers

The neighborhood is central for Jewish life in Pittsburgh, housing over 26% of the city’s Jewish households — about 15,000 people, according to a study by the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Pittsburgh. Another 31% of Jewish households lie in the surrounding neighborhoods.
“I think we all get together across the board, whether it’s Orthodox or Hasidic or Conservative or Reform and we have wonderful Jewish communal organizations,” said Diamond, who grew up and still lives in Squirrel Hill. “So it’s very vibrant and very active.”

It’s a center for the Jewish community

Squirrel Hill residents are much more active in Jewish life than residents of other neighborhoods, the study found.
They’re more likely to attend Jewish programs than residents of other Pittsburgh neighborhoods — probably because the programs are all nearby. And they’re far more likely to access Jewish-focused culture.
“Squirrel Hill remains both the geographic and institutional center of the Greater Pittsburgh Jewish community, and the Jewish community is growing there and in adjacent neighborhoods,” the study said.
“The density of the Jewish population and its institutions in Squirrel Hill make it an attractive neighborhood for Jewish households looking to be especially active in Jewish life.”

But it’s been targeted before

Still, Squirrel Hill has experienced prior hate.
Last year, anti-Semitic and white supremacist stickers and cards were found around the neighborhood on car windshields, park benches and playground slides.
“I thought this was a safe neighborhood,” said Mutlu Kesten, who lives nearby with her husband, Onur, and their 4-year-old daughter. The Muslim couple moved to Pittsburgh from Turkey in 2006. “It’s devastating.”
She said she walks her daughter to preschool near the synagogue every day and the family cherish their close ties with their Jewish neighbors and diverse community.
“Up until now, we were very happy to be here,” said her husband. “But these kinds of things are happening everywhere.”
The state’s attorney general has agreed not to enforce its new law — aimed at preventing internet providers from favoring certain websites and apps — while a lawsuit plays out in Washington.
The California law put the state at odds with the federal government. The Federal Communications Commission voted to overturn Obama-era net neutrality protections last December. Ajit Pai, the FCC chairman appointed by President Donald Trump, pitched the repeal as a way to stop the federal government from “micromanaging the internet.”
Mozilla, a non-profit dedicated to ensuring “free and open internet,” filed a lawsuit arguing the FCC’s decision to overturn net neutrality “violates both federal law as well as harms internet users and innovators.”
California then passed its own net neutrality law on September 30, which was set to take effect in January. The state’s bill prohibits internet providers from blocking, slowing down, or speeding up content from certain sites or apps.
The DOJ and internet companies punched back with lawsuits.
And in a court document filed Friday, a judge revealed that California has agreed to hold off on enforcing its law until the Mozilla case is settled.
American Cable Association, which represents companies like Comcast (CMCSA), is a party in one lawsuit filed against California. The organization said in a statement posted to its website that it considers the move “a win for consumers.”
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has long vowed to protect net neutrality laws in his state.
“Every step we take, every action we launch is intended to put us in the best position to preserve net neutrality for the 40 million people of our state,” Becerra, a Democrat, said in a statement to media.