Sen. Amy Klobuchar is in the midst of a 27-county barnstorm of Iowa, part of her effort to do the full 99-county tour before caucus night gets here. She’s riding high after a solid debate performance, one that generated $1 million in donations to her in the 24 hours after, allowing her to expand her Iowa operation even more.
On Saturday, Klobuchar toured 10 counties in one day, mostly across Southern Iowa, the most of any candidate in one day so far this cycle. Seeing a candidate make their pitch ten times in a row (and the attendees’ reaction) can be very interesting, so Starting Line’s Pat Rynard and Nikoel Hytrek spent the entire day with her.
Below are summaries of all ten events, including turnout numbers, reception, fun quotes and unique moments and interactions that Klobuchar had at each (the two stops with Trump supporters were particularly revealing). You can also look at our Tweet thread here for some videos.
We are also noting each county’s SDEs (state delegate equivalents) to give you a sense of how much of the caucus night vote each county will account for. Without getting deep into caucus math, candidates may come out of a county with 0.6 SDEs for reporting/who-wins purposes.
Later on it gets sorted out, but the point here is to show that many of the counties Klobuchar visited will account for only one-tenth of one percent of the caucus result. That’s why many candidates don’t do a 99-county tour, but it’s also how a candidate like Klobuchar, who already resonates with rural voters, can slowly rack up delegates on caucus night by strong showings in lots of small counties. Winning over ten caucus-goers in Wayne County may be the same as turning out fifty or more in Des Moines.
Sisters At Heart Coffee Shop
Town Size: 1,585
Wayne County SDEs: 3 (0.1% of state total)
Time: 7:45 AM
Reception: Klobuchar’s first event of the day was a packed, small coffee shop off the main square in Corydon. Several attendees mentioned that most of the presidential candidates came through Wayne County during the 2008 caucus, but that few of the large field of Democrats had visited this year.
After noting she had flown out from Los Angeles the day before on limited sleep, Klobuchar gave a brief, five-minute stump speech. One man told Klobuchar that Democrats should stop talking about providing so many free things, to which Klobuchar replied that she’s been arguing in her campaign that things like fully-free college wasn’t realistic, but that there needed to be a strong safety net.
Moment: Klobuchar explained to a fourth grade girl that approached her for a book autograph that fourth grade was the Senator’s favorite. Klobuchar’s fourth grade teacher encouraged her to speak up louder in class, and they kept in touch through letters after Klobuchar got to the Senate. The girl noted she’d been in a class play lately, playing Ferdinand Magellan, and Klobuchar asked the girl to recite her lines. She was impressed.
Quote: “We came straight from Los Angeles, on four hours of sleep, or three-and-a-half hours, we did those five counties, so now we’re feeling rested. Oh yeah, feeling really rested for these ten counties today.”
Reporter Status: Invigorated. Starting Line reporters hit the road at 6:00 AM and took a drive through beautiful Southern Iowa. Avoided loading up on coffee early, but got tempted by the incredible cinnamon rolls the coffee shop sold. May have been a mistake.
Lamoni Community Center
Town Size: 2,324
Decatur County SDEs: 4 (0.2% of state total)
Time: 9:00 AM
Reception: Klobuchar arrived to a sizable crowd for this small, southern Iowa town near the Missouri border. A pair of Minnesotans had driven down and were adorned with green Klobuchar t-shirts. One of them had a brother in Creston that he was going to try to win over for the Senator.
Though it was only the second event of the day, the candidate was already running 35 minutes behind scheduled time. This one played out more like a regular caucus event, with Klobuchar giving a larger part of her personal biography speech and talking about issues like pharmaceutical prices and long-term care. She encouraged attendees to call friends or family members in Minnesota to get a reference for her.
One person whose question was chosen was from Missouri. Klobuchar joked, “Ohhh, should we answer it?” She did.
Moment: Andy McGuire entered the room a half hour before Klobuchar and immediately got caught up in and led the crowd in a rendition of God Bless America. Attendees then quizzed McGuire, Klobuchar’s Iowa campaign chair, on things like what the Senator’s hobbies were (she wasn’t sure on that topic, but was well-versed on others). Several of the attendees talked about who former Rep. Leonard Boswell, a native of Lamoni and who passed away last year, might have liked.
Quote: “How many counties are there in Iowa…” Klobuchar started to ask her state director.
“99!” she quickly replied.
“No, I know that. How many counties voted for Barack Obama and then Trump?” Klobuchar said after laughing, making the point she can win those swing counties back.
Reporter Status: Still good. Left the first event in time to fill the gas tank up. Looking forward to more coffee in the coming stops.
Chamber Main Street Building
Town Size: 5,076
Clarke County SDEs: 4 (0.2% of state total)
Reception: Two Dakota Pipeline protesters greeted Klobuchar outside the event. Inside, Klobuchar met a full room in Osceola in the late morning. At this point, the Senator was running an hour behind.
Six people raised their hands to indicate they’re already committed to Klobuchar. Beforehand, Roxanne Conlin, a prominent Iowa endorser for Klobuchar, fielded questions for the candidate on outreach to young people, how Klobuchar differs from Joe Biden, how she’ll stand up to Trump, the state of her polling numbers, how she’s thinking about balancing the impeachment trial in the Senate with her campaign, foreign policy and agriculture issues.
“It’s important that when we’re back in power, we know how to use it,” Conlin said.
Moment: At this event, Klobuchar went straight to pictures after a brief delivery. Audience members had a chance to ask her their questions one-on-one and get more direct answers. Klobuchar also had moments with some of the younger kids in attendance, asking them their ages and what they’re doing in school.
Reporter Status: Getting hungry. A box of trail mix from a store on the town square kept us going. First large coffee purchase of the day.
Adams Street Espresso
Town Size: 7,834
Union County SDEs: 6 (0.3% of state total)
Reception: Klobuchar really started to hit her stride in front of a packed coffee shop in Creston, Iowa. Attendees said it was the largest they’d had in the venue this year, though Buttigieg drew close to 300 across town last month. Joe Biden appeared at the train depot there later in the day, drawing 211. The crowd cheered loudly at many of Klobuchar’s lines, and she picked out certain enthusiastic supporters in the crowd as she went.
Moment: After some boisterous Trump supporters in the crowd interrupted her with shouts of “How are you going to pay for it,” Klobuchar lit into the suggestion from what she called the “peanut gallery,” rapidly ticking off all the ways she’d raise revenue, in part by reversing Trump’s tax cuts for the rich.
Quote: “Let’s start, man, since the question was asked, with the corporate tax rate … [Trump] brought it down to 21%. Every point it went down was $100 billion in ten years … The hedge fund loophole — does that help anyone in this room? You can save $18 billion by closing that. Did Donald Trump close that? No, he has not. Okay, how about this one: the oil giveaways, did that help your biofuel industry? No, it does not. That saves you $30 billion right there … You want to keep going? Capital gains rate. Why don’t we change that to a personal tax rate?”
Reporter Status: We have now memorized the new parts of Klobuchar’s speech. “Forgot” to eat lunch. Still moving along.
Ringgold County Freedom Rock
Town Size: 330
Ringgold County SDEs: 3 (0.1% of state total)
Reception: This was a quick stop to see the local Freedom Rock, a staple of small towns in Iowa (they’re large painted rocks usually dedicated to veterans). Klobuchar also got a history lesson on the tiny Southern Iowa town — it’s the only place in the state where the train tracks run diagonally, hence the name. There were a few caucus tourists there from the Kansas City area.
The group proceeded to stand around the giant rock and discuss the future of the country with the presidential candidate. Several people complimented her debate performances.
Klobuchar made sure to get a photo with a man wearing a hat with a four-leaf clover on it, hoping it would give her luck.
Moment: Klobuchar was presented with a gift of two loaves of freshly-baked bread by local Democratic activists. One of the women who met her was a retired librarian, and Klobuchar discussed her favorite books growing up: Little House on the Prairie and Stuart Little.
Quote: Klobuchar explained her hot dish recipe: “We had a [baking] contest of the Minnesota delegation, and we won it that year. It had pepper jack cheese in it, and everyone in Northern Minnesota was like, ‘great, fun,’ but Southern Minnesota, as in close to Iowa, the emails said, ‘this is too spicy.’”
Reporter Status: We were happy to get out into the sun on this stop. It warmed up enough to not really need the winter jacket. Lack of food not fully hit yet.
Town Size: 1,635
Adams County SDEs: 3 (0.1% of state total)
Reception: This stop was more geared as a small business drop-by, with a personal feel to it. Klobuchar began talking to the young owner of the upscale restaurant in Adams County, the smallest-population county in Iowa. “It’s nice to have a stop where I’m not the only one talking,” Klobuchar noted.
Moment: Klobuchar sat down at the table and talked to the restaurant’s owners about how the farm-to-table restaurant opened, and the local spots where the owners source their food. Klobuchar brought up her line that, “Food doesn’t magically appear on the table.” She connected her work on the Senate Agriculture Committee to the work these restaurant owners do.
Quote: Klobuchar: “You’ve got international visitors from Missouri.”
Attendee: “We had someone from Paris once.”
Reporter Status: Realizing we should get our hands on some food soon — hasn’t been time yet. More coffee would also be smart as some point. So far, the lack of sleep hasn’t caught up, but we’re still facing more than five more hours. The restaurant owner described in excruciating detail the food they serve, which was not available to order yet in the day.
Taylor County Museum
Town Size: 1,440
Taylor County SDEs: 3 (0.1% of state total)
Time: 4:00, started at 5:00
Turnout: 22 (50 if you counted all the mannequins)
Reception: A little girl wearing reindeer antlers led the Senator into the event. It was a more subdued setting, with voters sitting around a long table in the middle of a county museum filled with Christmas trees, mannequins and antiques.
A woman told Klobuchar about how her husband had a stroke and she had to retire to take care of him. Klobuchar asked them whether they could get long-term health insurance (they couldn’t) and the candidate described her elderly father’s health issues and issue with long-term care.
After their discussion, Klobuchar took a brief tour of the museum, taking in the extensive collection of Christmas trees. There were also more mannequins in the building than people. One reporter convinced Klobuchar to take a photo with one, during which the Senator joked if it needed a commit-to-caucus card. Seven events in, things were getting a little loopy.
Moment: A man in a Trump hat questioned the large check-list of policies Klobuchar hopes to accomplish in the first 100 days, pointing to her long Senate service and asking, “You’ve been a senator for 13 years, what are you waiting for?”
Klobuchar replied very calmly, explaining that she’d gotten over 100 of her own bills passed in a bipartisan manner. “I actually have a record of accomplishment, and I’ve passed more bills than anyone running in this primary,” she said. Klobuchar noted she recently worked on a burn pit bill to protect soldiers’ health in the war zones. The man looked impressed, noting he had served four years in Afghanistan. He thanked her twice, perhaps seeing a different version of a Democratic politician than he expected.
Reporter Status: Dragging just a little, mini-tour of the museum provided good entertainment. Mannequins were creepy.
Page County Dems Ham Ball
Town Size: 5,572
Page County SDEs: 6 (0.3% of state total)
Time: 5:00, arrived at 6:00
Reception: Klobuchar strolled into a festive, packed hall of county Democrats in Clarinda, who were comfortable and in good spirits, just like the Senator. The campaign had received 30 RSVPs for the event, so they were quite happy to see over a hundred attendees.
When she walked in the door, Klobuchar made a point to try out the Page County Democrats’ famous ham balls in front of the media, which she had been talking about in anticipation since the previous event. The candidate was clearly in a good mood here, bragging at one point to the crowd how she had handled the Trump voters at previous events.
While she did lightning-round questions onstage, a voter approached her staffers and asked for a commit caucus card. He said he was a Biden guy, but, “I’m 78 percent with her,” referencing Klobuchar’s joke about slowly winning over former Cedar Rapids mayor Kay Halloran. “She blew them out of the water,” he said of her debate performance.
Moment: Not for the first time of the day, Klobuchar talked about her announcement in a blizzard and how her hair wasn’t disturbed by the weather. In Clarinda, she praised the woman who does her hair, noting “she’s an icon,” and then referenced for the first time the Saturday Night Live skit of the November debate, saying it was for SNL to comment on her bad hair days.
Quote: “Go eat another ham ball and then fill out a commit-to-caucus card.”
Reporter Status: Probably the most entertaining event. Plus, we finally loaded up on food. Feel like we’ll survive the day.
Silver Spur Bar & Grill
Town Size: 1,138
Fremont County SDEs: 3 (0.1% of state total)
Reception: At this point, the bus was running well over an hour behind schedule to events. Roxanne Conlin sang Klobuchar’s praises beforehand, ably delaying for the Senator, though she too was getting a bit silly at this point in the day.
Before she made her entrance, one voter described Klobuchar as, “she’s Cindy Axne, yet ten times more.” High praise for Southwest Iowa Democrats who were very proud of flipping their congressional district with Axne last year.
Notably, this was the third event of the day where an attendee compared Trump to Adolf Hitler’s rise in Germany (some of whom had parents who experienced it).
Moment: One of Klobuchar’s staffers brought a beer into the room and when Klobuchar saw it, she said, “I thought that beer was for me, John.” When Klobuchar was handed the beer she lifted it and said, “It’s Saturday night.” A voter then called out and said, “Notice it’s all beer, no foam!”
Quote: “Come on, we’re at sports bar, we’re in a rodeo place” – Klobuchar’s latest reason attendees should decide who to caucus for now.
Reporter Status: Realizing we still have a long drive back to Des Moines. Beer looks good, settling for water.
Council Bluffs, Iowa
Town Size: 62,316
Pottawattamie County SDEs: 48 (2.3% of state total)
Time: 8:15, arrived around 9:30
Reception: The house party in a historic neighborhood in Council Bluffs was completely packed, with many attendees only able to hear from several rooms away. Klobuchar remained in very good spirits here, staying late into the evening for photos and conversations.
Moment: Klobuchar pointed out one man who was wearing a green Christmas sash that said “vote for Amy” and instructed him to twirl around to show the media.
Quote: “Thank you, person in the back who ruined my punchline,” she said to a very loud man who shouted out in support during the speech, but also said some of her lines before she did.
Reporter Status: Alive, glad it’s over. But overall, a perfect Iowa Caucus experience.
by Nikoel Hytrek and Pat Rynard