Vice President Mondale, seeking support in a region highly skeptical of the Carter administration, has politically embraced farmers who are striking for higher prices without specifically endorsing their demand for "full parity."
In speeches and press conferences in Montana, Idaho and Washington, the Vice President repeatedly praised the strikers for "effectively dramatizing" the need to raise agricultural farm prices and protect the family farmer.
The tactic seems to be working. Mondale and two Cabinet members, Agriculture Secretary Bob Bergland and Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus, won a standing ovation Wednesday night from farmers in Great Falls, Mont. after 2 1/2 hours answering questions highly critical of administration policy.
Many of the descriptions of Carter farm policy were bitter.
"We reject the present farm bill, which at best is planned poverty and at worst is suicide for the family farm," said Joyce Robinson, of the American Agricultural Movement, the strikers' organization.
"We have produced our best and have little to show but losses and red ink," said Myron Schober, president of the Montana Farmers Union.
A young sugar beet farmer stood up in the audience and said he had "been going backwards" despite three years of bumper crops because support prices are so low.
Mondale and Bergland used this to point out the dilemmas facing and Carter administration. Agreeing that sugar beet prices are far too low for farmers to make an adequate living, they nonetheless said that raising them would encourage increased competition from fructose, a sweetener made from corn, and beet growers would face economic disaster.
On question after question the government spokesmen gave similar responses. Cattlemen who want a ban on beef imports were told that the administration is negotiating voluntary quotas limiting these imports but doesn't want to ban them outright because the source countries are also good customers for U.S. exports.
Afterward, several farmers commented that while they still found administration farm policies inadequate, they were impressed with the candor and directness shown by Mondale and the two Cabinet secretaries.
Many but not all also appeared to accept at least partially Mondale's contention that their present plight reflects past policies and that the Carter administration is working to raise farm prices.
Mondale underscored this theme today by using Pullman, located in the congressional district of House Agriculture Committee Chairman Thomas S. Foley, as the place to announce increases in target price levels for barley and grain sorghum.
Mondale said this "extends the principle of treating all producers of the major commodities fairly and equitably." He also said that direct payments to wheat and feed grain producers for the 1977-78 fiscal year will total $1.7 billion.
The Vice President has dwelled on the difficulty of solving complex farm issues by simple means.
Mondale was greeted at Washington State University here copies of the local Pullman Herald, which featured a poll of the town's grade school students, most of whom didn't know who Mondale was. The story, headed "Walter Who?," said that one student identified him as a circus clown and another as an actor while one third-grader said, "Not very many important people come to Pullman."
Mondale gave as good as he got. After he was introduced to the campus audience by Foley, the Vice President said the burning question that seemed to be on the minds of Westerners in the six states he has visited is: "Where the hell is Pullman?"
The Vice President is scheduled to conclude his seven-state swing Friday at a meeting with 13 Western governors, all Democrats, in Reno. California Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown, Jr. after first indicating that he was undecided, has told the Vice President's staff that he will attend.