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Capitol Ideas: Sensing a surge, Amy Klobuchar pursues success with Iowa moderates

Democratic presidential hopeful feels momentum building as caucuses draw near

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota speaks Friday at the Veterans Memorial Building in Cedar Rapids.  The Democratic pr
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota speaks Friday at the Veterans Memorial Building in Cedar Rapids. The Democratic presidential hopeful hosted town hall meetings in Sioux City and Des Moines on Thursday and in Waterloo and Cedar Rapids on Friday. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

JOHNSTON — Perhaps it was recency bias, but when Amy Klobuchar addressed a campaign crowd this past week in the Des Moines suburbs, she sounded a lot like Joe Biden, who had spoken earlier that same day in Anamosa.

Pledges to unite the country, to work across partisan boundaries and to restore order to the White House came from both Klobuchar, the U.S. senator from Minnesota, and Biden, the former vice president.

Klobuchar and Biden clearly are more moderate in this expansive field of Democratic presidential candidates.

So I asked Klobuchar, after her event Thursday night in Johnston, why undecided Democrats should caucus for her instead of Biden.

Klobuchar listed a couple of reasons. First, she is from the heartland, and thus, she says she can win crucial Midwest states that Democrats lost in 2016, such as Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan.

Biden makes a similar argument. He is not from the Midwest, but he has campaigned for and helped candidates win in those states.

Klobuchar added that her record of electoral success in Minnesota proves she can win both suburban and rural voters, and she said she has experience governing and being able to pass legislation during this time of heightened partisan politics.

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“I have been governing at the time of Trump. I know on the front line what it is like, how people feel not only in our own state but how people feel left behind by this president in a very visceral way,” Klobuchar said. “I’ve been in the United States Senate and been able to actually navigate through this with my own colleagues and the Republicans during this time. ... It’s a different kind of leadership.”

She added that she is from “a different generation, a new generation.”

Is that message enough for Klobuchar to gain on the leaders and become a factor in the caucuses — which are just a month away? That remains to be seen, but at the very least, Klobuchar’s voice is starting to be heard by more and more Iowa Democrats.

More than 500 people attended Thursday night’s event, and that was the biggest crowd in Iowa that Klobuchar has drawn to date, her campaign staff said. Her message was well-received. There were plenty of laughs at Klobuchar’s very Midwest sense of humor, applause lines and knowing nods.

Klobuchar also has seen a fundraising boost: Her fundraising for the most recent three-month period more than doubled her previous quarterly effort. That will help the campaign invest in ways to help it capitalize on any momentum. (Or “Klomentum,” if you’re into that sort of thing.)

There has been scant state-level polling in recent weeks, so there is no way to confirm the anecdotal evidence. But that anecdotal evidence does seem to suggest Klobuchar’s campaign is surging at this late stage of the race.

A significant portion of likely Iowa caucuses participants remains undecided or willing to have their minds changed. So there still is time more than a year into this thing for a candidate to make a late surge to the top of this field.

Klobuchar said she feels momentum building in her campaign. It’s up to her and her team to capitalize.

Klobuchar said she hopes people see her in this month’s debate, and she has another suggestion for any Iowa Democrats hoping to learn more about her.

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“They can call people they know in Minnesota. There’s 5 million of those people,” Klobuchar said. “And maybe they didn’t all vote for me, but I think ... the vast majority did, and I think a lot of them will say that I have people’s backs, that I get things done. And I think it’s important to listen to them, too.

“It’s a job reference.”

Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government for Lee Enterprises. His email address is erin.murphy@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @ErinDMurphy.

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