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'Senator next door' Klobuchar makes stop in Iowa

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota holds her hands above her head Sunday, Feb. 17, 2019, as she tells two young fans in Albia, Iowa, about her snowy presidential campaign announcement a week earlier in Minneapolis. She made three Iowa stops during the weekend. Don Davis / Forum News Service1 / 2
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar tells a Knoxville, Iowa, Sunday, Feb. 17, soup lunch crowd why she should be president. It came a week after she announced she was running. Don Davis / Forum News Service2 / 2

ALBIA, Iowa — U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is introducing herself to politically important Iowans as the senator next door.

The Minnesota Democrat, a week into her presidential run, told those in the state to the south on Sunday, Feb. 17, that she understands their needs because Iowa’s needs are the same as in her home state, which she has served in the Senate for a dozen years. She took her Iowa campaign theme from the title of her autobiography: “The Senator Next Door.”

Klobuchar rattled off a series of issues Iowa and Minnesota hold in common, including the need for high-speed internet funding, railroad improvements, more road construction and improved rural health care.

But to accomplish all that, she said, people need to work together. “We need to find that common ground again.”

Klobuchar often emphasizes her work with Republicans to get things accomplished.

While that has not hurt her in Minnesota, including when she has promoted that background in front of Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party state conventions, it remains to be seen how that will play in Iowa, with an expected crowded presidential field full of liberals. Some political observers speculate that Klobuchar may not be liberal enough attract Democratic Iowa caucus delegates.

On Sunday, she did not steer away from crediting Republicans, such as Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, who has worked with her on a number of issues, including allowing Americans to buy Canadian drugs.

Klobuchar’s first campaign stop as a presidential candidate, after announcing in a heavy Minneapolis snowstorm on Feb. 10, was Saturday in west-central Wisconsin Eau Claire. Stop No. 2 Saturday was in northern Iowa’s Mason City. She headed south on Sunday through a newly fallen half-foot of snow to Knoxville and Albia, southeast of Des Moines.

“I continue to bring my snow globe with me everywhere I go,” she told the crowds, adding that a Monday, Feb. 18, visit to New Hampshire also is to include snow.

The senator joined other candidates and expected candidates at the two southern Iowa events as the state’s politicos prepare for the Feb. 3, 2020, precinct caucuses that will begin the presidential candidate selection process.

In her initial presidential campaign stops, Klobuchar said she will focus on areas, such as rural America, that Democrats too often ignore.

Many in the Iowa audiences noted her rural interest as a Klobuchar plus.

Phyllis Weeks of Knoxville said Democrats must understand they cannot win the White House without rural votes. Donald Trump widely is thought to have won the presidency in 2016 thanks to rural America.

Weeks said that while she is not committed to a candidate at this early date, she likes Klobuchar. “I like the way she presents herself.”

Richard Bain wore a University of Minnesota Gophers sweatshirt, one of several with Minnesota ties in the Knoxville audience. Like most Iowans interviewed, Bain — who voted for Klobuchar in her first county attorney race before he moved south to Knoxville — has not decided on a candidate. “I have a very open mind.”

Northeast Minnesota native Denis Johnansen, who lives between Knoxville and Albia, graduated in political science from the University of Minnesota and said her popularity in Minnesota could transform to countrywide support. “The country needs it now.”

“You better have a person who can talk to both sides,” he said.

Dr. Vince Sullivan of Centerville, at the Albia event, said many members of his family -- which seldom discuss politics -- urged him to attend. “With that kind of fan base, she has got to win. … She would be excellent against Trump.”

Patty Judge of Albia, long a state official including agriculture secretary, is not taking sides yet but is trying to educate candidates visiting Iowa about agriculture through a newly formed Focus on Rural America organization.

Even if a candidate does not have the rural experience of a Klobuchar, Judge said, Iowans could support him or her. “You don't just start eliminating people on that basis.”

Klobuchar told the Albia crowd that she has campaigned for Judge in previous elections.

Klobuchar, 58, was elected senator after serving as Hennepin County attorney. She surprised many with her statewide strength, which she built by traveling Minnesota as state county attorney association president. Polls show her as the state’s most popular active politician.

The senator is traveling Iowa to get presidential support, but she is far from a stranger. Klobuchar long has been one of the most popular senators to speak at Democratic events across the country, with Iowa being a frequent stop for her.