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Want to know what presidential candidates think about global poverty? Just ask them

Bilal Kamoon/flickr

Living in the first primary state in the US means I have the privilege of every candidate visiting my hometown. I’ve done my best to see as many as possible, from Ben Carson to Carly Fiorina to Hillary Clinton.

When Clinton came through, she participated in a townhall discussion on the growing heroin epidemic in the state of New Hampshire. The press traveling with her packed the back of the Boys and Girls club as Clinton described her plan to spend $10 billion over 10 years on addressing drug addiction across the US I checked news sites the following day to see how it was reported and found few mentions of the stop. The most significant mention came weeks later in a New York Times front page story on heroin.

What did get attention were remarks made earlier in the day about an upcoming debate. An important issue to the state of New Hampshire was lost in the shuffle of national reporting on the Clinton campaign. Setting aside such discussions gives greater attention to more broad topics like terrorism, national security, and the economy.

As Joe pointed out, the word poverty was not uttered once during Tuesday night’s Republican debate. But that is not entirely the fault of the candidates. Questions asked by CNN’s moderators were largely about US foreign policy seen through the lens of defense and diplomacy. Whether you like him or hate him, Donald Trump has garnered a lot of attention for talking about both of those issues - particularly shutting out Muslim travelers and migrants for the sake of national security.

Poverty is left off the table because it is not deemed to be an important enough issue by the candidates, the media, and voters. All are responsible. But here’s the thing. If people actually start asking questions about these topics, they will get answers.

I know this because I asked one candidate. After making a stop where he endorsed the idea of ‘safe zones’ for Syrian refugees, I asked Marco Rubio why he did not mention development and foreign aid as a part of dealing with terrorism. A supporter of foreign aid, Rubio said that he usually mentions the issue but was short on time during the stop.

“In countries where there is real and robust economic development, there is less radicalization,” said Rubio. “Soft power is a real element and it’s in our national interest, and part of it is because it is the right thing to do,” said Rubio in response to questions about why he supports foreign aid. “I think this country has been blessed for what it has done for the world. And [foreign aid] is only a small percentage of the federal budget.”

That’s right folks. Marco Rubio thinks foreign aid is important and should be defended. But he isn’t going to offer up his views on it if he is not asked. The ONE Campaign managed to get Mitt Romney and Barack Obama to offer up their plans on international development during the 2012 presidential campaign. That’s because they asked the two.

As voters, we can press on leaders to talk about these issues. They will respond to the things that constituents feel are most important. Right now it is security. And voters want to hear about how force will or will not be used to ensure safety. If global poverty, the growing problem of heroin use, or anything else is the top concern for you, make sure to ask your political leader what they plan to do to address the issue.