Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar has struggled to stand out in a crowded field of Democratic presidential hopefuls. Klobuchar is in ninth place nationally and eighth place in Iowa, according to an average of public opinion polls compiled by RealClearPolitics.
As Democrats meet to debate over two nights this week in Miami, Klobuchar and other trailing candidates are hoping for a breakthrough moment that will shift momentum in the race.
In Iowa last week, Mason City resident Crystal Ely said she'll vote Democratic in next year's presidential election, and that she has some qualifications in mind.
"I'm looking for a candidate that's more centrist than what maybe I would have looked for in years past," she said, "just because we need somebody that's going to pull in from both sides."
Ely could be describing Klobuchar, who's campaigning on a record of attracting support not just from Democrats but from Independents and even Republicans. But Klobuchar's message is lost on Ely.
"I actually don't know anything about her," Ely said.
And that's Klobuchar's problem.
"To some extent, I've been a little surprised that she hasn't gotten more traction," said University of Iowa political science professor Tim Hagle.
"As soon as she announced, I thought, 'Oh, this could be somebody who has a good potential here in Iowa, somebody from a neighboring state. She should be able to connect fairly easily with the base.'"
But Hagle said Klobuchar's bipartisan, middle lane approach doesn't seem to be what Democratic activists are looking for right now. He noted that even front-runner Joe Biden is abandoning some moderate positions including his long-held opposition to most federal funding for abortion.
Klobuchar did not make herself available for this story.
But on a recent "Late Night with Seth Meyers" appearance, Klobuchar underscored the importance of this week's debates.
"This is a moment, especially for someone like me, from a state that's a little smaller in the middle of the country, for me to tell people what I'm all about," Klobuchar said.
In Mason City, local Democrat Bill Hoekstra, who cheered on Klobuchar at her first presidential campaign event in Iowa back in February, is keeping the faith.
"I'd love to see her get more traction but at this point, this early, I'm not sure polls mean much," he said.
Local county Democratic Party chair JoAnn Hardy is not supposed to take sides, but she's impressed with Klobuchar, she said.
It's difficult for lower-profile candidates to get attention in a field with big names like Biden and Bernie Sanders, Hardy said. But she believes that will change, and the debates offer Klobuchar and other lesser-known candidates a chance to upset the order of the race.
"I think there's going to be a lot more shifting around and people falling out of the top tier and people climbing into the top tier, and she needs to hang in there for a while," Hardy said. "I think she'll be OK."