vision 2020

For Klobuchar, It’s an Iowa Surge or Else

Amy Klobuchar campaigning in — where else? — Iowa. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

The presidential campaign of Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar is in full spin mode following her generally well-received performance in last week’s candidate debate in Los Angeles. Here’s a telling description from Politico:

Amy Klobuchar keeps telling Iowans about the text she got from a friend cheering her “insurgency” after last week’s debate. The friend meant to say “surge,” but Klobuchar found the auto-correct error funny — and whatever you call it, she’s desperate to convince Iowa it’s for real.

Sprinting across the state’s sparsely populated, westernmost reaches, Klobuchar is heralding her many endorsements in the state, a doubling of her staff in Iowa and the $1 million she raised in the day after the debate on Thursday night.

It’s no accident that Klobuchar wants Iowans to think she’s got the kind of buzz that has so often lifted dark horses to victory (or at least survival) in the first-in-the-nation caucuses. To an extent matched by no one else in the remaining field of major candidates, the Minnesotan’s candidacy is All About Iowa. Given her next-door status and the amount of time she has spent in the state, she just has to have one of the three or four tickets out of Iowa that candidates will get. Trouble is, the big four of Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, and Elizabeth Warren will be extremely difficult to displace in this state where campaigns have been heavily invested throughout 2019.

In Iowa polling (which has been sparse lately), Klobuchar is solidly in fifth place. But her RealClearPolitics polling average of 6.3 percent there is far behind fourth-place Warren’s 16 percent. She is in danger of winding up like Republicans Tim Pawlenty in 2012 and Scott Walker in 2016, benefiting from proximity to Iowa but doomed by a failure to meet elevated expectations there.

That’s where her claims of a “surge” comes in. There haven’t been any post-debate polls released in Iowa yet. And Klobuchar is making some news there, most recently by completing what is known locally as “the full Grassley” with appearances in all 99 counties (John Delaney did it first, but his candidacy has been all but forgotten).

She’s positioned in a way that makes it possible for her to draw votes from at least three of the top-four candidates, notably from fellow moderates Biden and Buttigieg. And her campaign clearly believes Buttigieg’s Iowa support is the softest, which helps explain why she went after him with a claw hammer in Los Angeles (and not for the first time). But the reality is she needs to actually beat at least one of them in Iowa. And we’ll probably need to get closer to Caucus Night on February 3 to see which of them is the most vulnerable — or if, indeed, Klobuchar is just going nowhere fast.

She and her flacks are not the only ones perceiving her campaign as developing some much-needed momentum, per Politico:

“Amy is dynamite,” said former Iowa Senate majority leader Mike Gronstal, who has endorsed former vice-president Joe Biden but attended a Klobuchar house party this past weekend in Council Bluffs. “Who knows where it leads, but Iowans have spent the last six months getting to know these candidates, and now they’re in the position where they’re getting to make up their minds.”

Sitting in the kitchen while Klobuchar met with supporters in the living room, Gronstal said of her, “The surge is real.”

There are some objective indicators of a growing Iowa campaign, too:

In recent weeks, Klobuchar has doubled the size of her operation in Iowa to nearly 80 staffers in the state. She has 18 offices, and after the latest debate, her campaign said she posted record days for caucus commitments and precinct-captain recruitments.

Her campaign is running TV ads in every market in the state and said it plans to remain on the air through the caucuses. She is raising money, and she is traveling to far-flung, conservative stretches of Iowa, including 27 counties over a four-day trip that ended Monday.

The next few high-quality polls of Iowa will be crucial for Klobuchar, who needs to show she is or will soon be in striking distance of one of the top-four candidates. She has already qualified for the Iowa-based seventh candidate debate on January 14 and will need to make another splash then. Her rivals, of course, won’t simply watch her passively:

Strategists working with several rival campaigns said they expected Klobuchar’s debate to result in at least some polling uptick in the state. And by the weekend, they were beginning to recirculate opposition research on Klobuchar — from old accusations of mistreatment by staff to her past support for some of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees.

Of her post-debate bump, an adviser to one candidate said, “She hasn’t been attacked yet. I don’t think anyone’s going to let this stand.”

But she’ll sojourn on in Iowa, endlessly reminding caucusgoers that she is from the regional neighborhood and has electability credentials as good as, or better than, anyone in the race.

For Klobuchar, It’s an Iowa Surge or Else