STANTON, Iowa – It was the kind of event designed to play up the Midwestern sensibilities that Amy Klobuchar so often talks about on the campaign trail. In a small rural Iowa community, voters gathered in a neighbor's home. They ate tater tot hot dish — Klobuchar's award-winning recipe — and listened to the case for the Minnesota senator to be Democrats' nominee for president.
The only thing missing was the candidate, who was stuck in the Senate chamber some 1,100 miles away for the start of President Donald Trump's impeachment trial. Instead, her potential supporters at Tuesday night's house party got a pitch from the senator's 24-year-old daughter.
“She actually has a record of winning in places Trump has won,” said Abigail Bessler, delivering Klobuchar's well-worn lines. “When I talk to voters in New Hampshire, when I talk to people here ... it's just ‘Is she going to be able to beat Donald Trump?’ They want a candidate who is going to win, and I think she has the best record for proving that."
The impeachment trial that got underway this week is happening at an inopportune time for all four of the senators in the Democratic primary. Just as voters in the nation's leadoff caucus state are finalizing their decisions ahead of the Feb. 3 caucuses, Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Michael Bennet and Klobuchar are stuck in their seats in Washington.
But it's a particularly bad moment for Klobuchar. The three-term senator built her campaign on a strategy of a slow and steady build in Iowa. She spent campaign funds conservatively all year, hoping to be able to capitalize on a late surge just before the caucuses. A strong showing in Iowa, her campaign hopes, will catapult her into the top tier in New Hampshire and beyond. Now her absence could blunt the gains from what Klobuchar described Wednesday as “quite a 48 hours.”
In recent days Klobuchar earned endorsements from The New York Times, which also endorsed Warren, and the Quad-City Times, one of Iowa's largest newspapers. On Tuesday, she got the backing of a state senator who is a leading advocate for action on climate change, and two other state lawmakers who previously supported Sen. Cory Booker and former Rep. Beto O'Rourke, who have dropped out of the 2020 race. She picked up 14 more local endorsers on Wednesday, including two well-known Iowa Democratic activists who were previously with Sen. Kamala Harris, who quit the race last year.
But Klobuchar is running out of time to gain ground on the four front-runners — Warren, Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Those candidates also have surrogates on the trail, including some big-name performers and nationally known politicians. Actress Mandy Moore was in Iowa for Buttigieg, and actress and activist Ashley Judd will stump with Warren in New Hampshire on Friday and Saturday. Sanders is bringing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and musical acts Bon Iver and Vampire Weekend to Iowa.
Klobuchar says that the breadth of her support shows she can bring together people from all political leanings and that the roster of well-known local supporters will provide crucial credibility and organizing support in her absence.