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Rural voters a key to Klobuchar’s Iowa strategy

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Three people work in an office with a painted "Iowa loves Amy" sign.
Volunteers and campaign staff work at an Amy Klobuchar campaign field office in Des Moines, Iowa, on Tuesday. Some Iowa Democrats say Klobuchar’s decision to campaign in rural, traditionally Republican areas of the state is a good one.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

As she campaigns for the Democratic presidential nomination in Iowa, Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is spending lots of time in rural, traditionally Republican counties. And there’s evidence her strategy may be working.

Klobuchar has seen a jump in Iowa polls in recent weeks, although she is still well behind four other candidates.

Klobuchar often tells prospective supporters that in Minnesota she won in rural areas where Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016. She says she can do it again in 2020 in Iowa and other states.

Just as she’s campaigned for Senate in every Minnesota county, Klobuchar is pledging to visit all of Iowa’s 99 counties between now and the caucuses in early February.

A man stands in front of a Iowa Democrats sign.
Iowa Democratic Party Chair Troy Price.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

“Going to all 99 counties is a great idea,” said Iowa Democratic Party Chair Troy Price, who also served as political director for President Obama’s Iowa reelection campaign.

“It pays to get out there and talk to people as much as you can and not just the big cities here in Iowa but getting out into those small towns,” said Price.

In last year’s midterm elections, Iowa Democrats won control of three of the state’s four congressional districts. Before the election, they had only one.

Price hopes to build on that success in 2020. A growing number of Iowa Republicans are switching allegiances out of frustration with President Trump, which is opening up new opportunities for Democrats in traditionally red, rural Iowa, Price said.

In the heart of northwestern Iowa’s conservative 4th District, Dickinson County Democratic Chair Brett Copeland is backing Klobuchar. To defeat Trump, Democrats need someone like Klobuchar, who he says is smart, unshakable, has a record of winning elections and is interested in addressing rural Americans’ concerns, Copeland said.

“A lot of the other candidates seemed to have focused their efforts on the more urban areas. We’ve been grateful to have just in the last month, I guess, more of them turning out to us now, but we seem kind of like a second thought to a lot of these presidential candidates,” he said.

And Iowa Democratic leaders note that even sparsely populated counties are guaranteed a minimum number of delegates, so working the rural vote can pay off.

A sign that says Amy for Iowa in a window
The window of Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar's presidential campaign headquarters in Des Moines, Iowa.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

Six-term Iowa State Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, is one of the latest Iowa lawmakers to endorse Klobuchar.

“I’ve caucused for Joe Biden before, and I like Mayor Pete. I like Elizabeth Warren. There are just things about each of them I really like,” Steckman said, “but when you look at the total package, I think Amy has it. I really do.”

Steckman said she particularly likes Klobuchar’s ability to bridge political divides.

“The whole country is divided, and we need someone that can bring us together and heal that division and move us forward. I’ve watched Amy for years, and she has a way of getting things done when others can’t,” she said.

Steckman predicted Klobuchar's strategy of campaigning hard throughout Iowa and not just focusing on liberal, urban areas will pay off.

“She knows how to get elected. You know, she’s got elected over and over again in rural Republican areas in Minnesota,” Steckman said.

J. Ann Selzer who’s overseen the closely watched Iowa Poll for 25 years said although Klobuchar is behind the top four Democratic front-runners, she’s climbing and there’s still time for her to break through.

“Amy Klobuchar is sort of on the cusp to become a contender,” Selzer said. “What I think is possible is that as other candidates sort of start not to wear so well, that she has some opportunity to pick up.”

A woman sits in an office with two computer screens in front of her
J. Ann Selzer says the race is far from settled in her state, which she adds shouldn’t surprise anyone. “It’s always pretty volatile,” she said.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News