Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar is going all-in on Iowa as she tries to become the Democratic nominee for president, returning to the nation's leadoff caucus state this weekend for a flurry of stops — her third visit since launching her campaign just over a month ago.
Klobuchar pitches herself as the next-door neighbor who understands issues facing middle America, scoffs at a snowstorm and "can see Iowa from my front porch." At house parties, bars and spaghetti dinners she's referred to Iowans as "my friends" and reminded them she knows how to win in both big cities and rural areas, a key to defeating President Donald Trump in 2020.
It's a strategy that could make Klobuchar competitive in a state that prizes Midwestern familiarity and values. But Klobuchar will have mounting competition for Iowa voters — and plenty of company — as she works to stand out among better-known Democrats with a lot more money.
"I am a candidate from the heartland," Klobuchar told reporters in Des Moines recently, calling Iowa and the rest of the Midwest "an important part" of her path to success. She said she's hoping for a top-three finish in the Iowa caucus.
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Her trip will coincide with the maiden Iowa voyage for Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke, the former Texas congressman who shot to stardom with his failed 2018 bid to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz.
O'Rourke has been polling higher in Iowa than Klobuchar, a three-term senator and regular visitor to the state. He's scheduled to attend the same Waterloo event a few hours after Klobuchar and also to visit Cedar Rapids, where Klobuchar will march in a St. Patrick's Day parade, inviting inevitable comparisons of crowd sizes and enthusiasm.
The crossover is to be expected with more than a dozen Democrats battling for the chance to unseat Republican President Donald Trump and several others, including former Vice President Joe Biden, potentially getting in the race soon.
Few face the same expectations to perform well in Iowa, however, as Klobuchar, who projects herself as a leading voice of the pivotal upper Midwest.
She has argued that her profile — granddaughter of an iron ore miner who's won in both rural and urban parts of Minnesota — would distinguish her in key general election states 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton lost to Trump, such as Wisconsin and Michigan.
But Klobuchar has seen no real movement in her standings among a long list of declared and potential Democratic candidates, according to Des Moines Register/CNN polls. In a poll this month, 3 percent name her as their first choice, unchanged from December before she announced her candidacy. Six percent say she is their first or second choice, also unchanged from December.
Biden topped the March poll with 27 percent saying he's their first choice. He was followed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who was the first choice of 25 percent of people polled.
Klobuchar is still an unknown in Iowa, testing the theory that a neighboring state might be more friendly territory for her. There has been a slight decline from December in the share who say they don't know enough about her to have an opinion — 41 percent now versus 54 percent then. That change is about evenly distributed between favorable and unfavorable ratings of her, though Iowa Democrats are more positive (43 percent favorable) than negative (15 percent unfavorable) toward her overall.
Klobuchar's campaign says her grasp of rural issues and ability to win in non-urban areas will appeal to Iowa Democrats, who are looking for a nominee with the coattails to help candidates further down on the ballot return the GOP-controlled state Legislature to split government.
They also say Klobuchar will earn support from a wide range of caucus goers, including women and those looking for a "realist" and someone who can work with Republicans to get things done.
Former Iowa Democratic Party chairwoman Andy McGuire has signed on to be Klobuchar's Iowa campaign chairwoman, and the campaign is expected to announce several new Iowa staff hires soon, spokeswoman Carlie Waibel said.
Associated Press reporters Tom Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, and Hannah Fingerhut in Washington contributed to this report.