Klobuchar in Iowa: Friendly visit or presidential politics?

Sen. Amy Klobuchar
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., speaks at a rally to promote bipartisanship organized by the group No Labels at a park near the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on July 18, 2013.
MPR Photo/Brett Neely

Ever since her landslide re-election victory last fall, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar has undoubtedly been raising her profile inside the Washington Beltway.

Flip on the Sunday political talk shows and you might see her on the ABC show "This Week with George Stephanopoulos." She makes frequent appearances at Capitol Hill rallies, such as a recent one to promote bipartisanship, one of Klobuchar's pet projects.

Perhaps with that in mind, political observers couldn't help but notice that Klobuchar will be the keynote speaker for the North Iowa Democrats' Wing Ding Fundraiser on Aug. 16.

Although there are nearly 1,200 days -- more than three years -- until voters pick the next president of the United States, political junkies are following every politician's movements in and out of Iowa for signs of a possible bid for the White House.

Klobuchar's scheduled appearance in Iowa has sparked speculation about her future, given that she is often mentioned as a potential Democratic presidential candidate.

But anyone who asks Klobuchar if there is another motive for her trip to Iowa would receive a well-practiced response.

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"No, I love being the senator from Minnesota," she said. "It simply means I was invited to a wingding, and I think anything in Iowa makes a wingding out of a wingding, and that is all it is."

Others, however, think there is far more to her appearance.

"It's serious political business," said Larry Jacobs, a professor of politics at the University of Minnesota. "Amy Klobuchar is very shrewd in being the first Democrat to show up in Iowa with a presidential aura around her."

After two Minnesota Republicans, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, tried to win their party's presidential nomination in 2012, it's not out of the question that an ambitious Democrat might seek her party's nod.

One person who thinks Klobuchar has a shot at the Democratic nomination is pollster Jeff Liszt, who recently conducted a poll for EMILY's List, which works to elect Democratic women to office. The group has launched a campaign to land a woman in the White House, which Liszt said the public supports.

Liszt said Klobuchar can tell a story about herself that voters may be eager to hear.

"The kind of things that she's gotten bipartisan accomplishments on enable her to talk about making Washington work at a time when a lot of voters are really concerned about dysfunction in Washington," he said.

But there is one major potential obstacle for Klobuchar and others -- the possible candidacy former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was a tough competitor to then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama before he wrapped up the Democratic nomination in 2008.

"If she runs, then it's difficult for any other candidate, male or female, to get traction in the race," Liszt said of Clinton.

Another obstacle, Jacobs said, is what's known as the money primary.

"You need to be tied into big money to have even a shot at running for president," he said.

Klobuchar raised about $10 million for her re-election campaign -- certainly not chump change. But Clinton and other possible candidates, including Vice President Joe Biden or U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, have much bigger networks of deep-pocketed donors.

Another potential issue is how Klobuchar would position herself with Democratic primary voters. Jacobs noted that even before he was elected to the Senate, Obama won over the liberal wing of the party by opposing the war in Iraq.

"Klobuchar doesn't have that; she doesn't really have a signature progressive position," he said. "She can talk about things that she's done with Republicans, which she does very often. That's not going to charge up the Democratic Party base."

Still, Jacobs thinks Klobuchar has a bright future.

If she doesn't make a run for the White House, she could be in a strong position to land on the short list of vice presidential candidates, Jacobs said.

In the No. 2 slot, Klobuchar's strong relationships with Senate Republicans could come in useful if a future Democratic president tries to pass his or her agenda through Congress.

"There's also a real need today among presidents, whether they're Republican or Democrat, for a vice president who can help with the big job of governing," Jacobs said.

There's also plenty of precedent for a Democratic senator from Minnesota to serve as vice president, given the service of Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar: Key moments in her career

Nov. 8, 2006: Klobuchar races to easy victory in her first Senate run becoming the first female senator to be elected in Minnesota. She talked about placing more emphasis on renewable energy, affordable health care and a new direction in Iraq.

"In this campaign we have reached out to Democrats, to Republicans and to independents. We have reached out to all of you who have told me you are tired of that 24-hour TV shout fest about what's right and what's left and you want to talk about what's right and what's wrong," Klobuchar said.

Jan. 4, 2007: Klobuchar is sworn in. Former Vice President Walter Mondale escorted Klobuchar into the Senate chamber. Mondale noted the significance of Klobuchar's election during a reception in Washington.

"It's historic the first woman in Minnesota's history to be a United States senator, but it can't be explained on that basis," Mondale said. "She won by such a huge comfortable margin it's really a mandate for her and what she has been proposing be done for our country. I mean, she's a wonderful talent and got all of this hope and energy. That's why everybody is so happy here today."

Aug. 25, 2008: Klobuchar speaks at the Democratic National Convention. She gave a preview of her speech to the Minnesota delegates.

"Are you tired of that subprime leadership in Washington?" Klobuchar said. "You've got to be ready because that's what I'm going to say at the beginning of my convention speech. So I need you guys to be loud and to be there," Klobuchar said.

2008: Klobuchar voted for the 2008 Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) which, at the time, was worth $700 billion; $25 billion in federal loans to the auto industry passed in 2008 (Detroit ultimately got most of its assistance from TARP); a $400 billion bailout for home finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; and the $787 stimulus bill.

2009:Klobuchar did the work of two U.S. senators after Norm Coleman left office in January 2009 until Al Franken was sworn into office in early July 2009.

Jan. 11, 2010: Klobuchar defends Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid after a book reported that in a private conversation in 2008 about Barack Obama's chances of becoming president, Reid described Obama as a light-skinned African-American "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one."

Klobuchar told reporters she and other Democrats were satisfied with Reid's apology over the remarks, and ded not think he needed to leave his leadership post.

"People who have worked with Harry Reid know that he believes in justice and he believes in civil rights," said Klobuchar. "I think he chose some very inappropriate words, and he said he chose some inappropriate words, and he apologized."

Nov. 6, 2012: Klobuchar easily wins a second term, defeating Republican challenger Kurt Bills.

In her victory speech, Klobuchar thanked her supporters and she had won re-election "the right way," with hard work and a positive and optimistic vision.

"I am truly humbled by the trust and confidence you gave me six years ago and that you have renewed with your vote today," said Klobuchar, who said her campaign was about the future of Minnesota.