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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Reaping Farm Votes 'on Asphalt'

TVER, Central Russia - It was supposed to be a chance to hit the campaign trail with the party of the country's farmers as they stumped for votes in conservative, rural Russia.

But the agenda for the Agrarian Party leaders on their day trip to Tver included no handshakes, no baby-kissing, and - incredibly - not a single visit to a farm.

"Why should I go to a farm? " said the party's chairman, Mikhail Lapshin, visibly taken aback when a journalist made the suggestion. "I've spent my whole life on farms".

Instead, Lapshin had intended to spend Tuesday in this quiet industrial town on the Volga River, 150 kilometers north of Moscow, "on the asphalt".

In Agrarian terminology, this means meeting with party leaders and attending a "meeting with the electorate", all without once leaving the local union building.

It was finally decided that journalists who want to visit a farm could do so on their own while Lapshin addressed the electorate indoors.

The Agrarian Party, one of 13 electoral blocs contesting Dec. 12 parliamentary elections, can be excused for not tapping into the traditional arsenal of populist campaign tricks.

Made up of former Communist Party functionaries and the denizens of Soviet-style collective and state farms, the Agrarians have a built-in network for getting their message across to their electoral base - the estimated 36 million Russians who live in rural areas, especially the 10 to 15 million who work the land.

Lapshin and his lieutenants demonstrated how this works during Tuesday's "meeting with the electorate", who turned out to be 120 supporters from throughout the region, most of them members of the Agrarian Union.

Lapshin, an alert-looking man with rosy cheeks and piercing blue eyes, addressed his audience as "comrades" and issued repeated declarations of the party's slogan - "Without a renewal of the Russian village, there will be no renewal of Russia". He also handed out a large dose of criticism of the "outright dictator" President Boris Yeltsin, his "bourgeois constitution", and his government of "national traitors".

Lapshin was followed by three other party leaders, each of whom were received with cries of molodets, or "bravo".

A discussion session followed, lasting all of four questions.

"Everything is clear, there is nothing to discuss", someone cried as the 120 supporters dispersed, presumably to spread the message back at the region's factories and farms.

"Yes, I agree that Gaidar is a national traitor", said Nadezhda Yefimova, head of the Agrarian Union committee at a meat-processing factory in the region. "The thing to do now is to go out and agitate at our factories".

Lapshin and his men, their message received, piled into a small caravan of black Volgas and zoomed off for dinner at a sanatory - a combination of health spa and rest home - that the union has built for "the simple peasant", but which has not officially opened yet. Not many constituents there either.

Agrarian Party leaders are unafraid of the new era, but admit they are reluctant to relinquish many of the trappings of the old one.

Lapshin, 59, made the trip up from the state farm 100 kilometers to the south of Moscow that he has run for the past 30 years. In keeping with Russia's market reforms, the farm is now a private company with Lapshin as its president, but is still called "Lenin's Precepts".

"I am proud of my life's path", said Alexei Mikhailov, 64, the secretary of the agricultural worker's union and deputy chairman of the Agrarian Party. "It has allowed me to develop a collective psychology".