It’s official: I’ve finally seen my first presidential candidate this year.
It has been a difficult choice. As near as I can tell, 22 Democrats are running for the nation’s highest office, but it could be 75. The number seems to increase weekly.
If you’re an Iowan, this presents a myriad (that means “lots”) of opportunities to see candidates up close and personal.
As a reporter, I have seen plenty of candidates through the years, from Alan Cranston to Gary Hart. But I always remained unbiased. I can hear you laughing, but I really did. I never felt I had a stake in the outcome. That has changed.
This week, I decided to hear Amy Klobuchar. Long described as “Iowa’s third senator,” the Minnesota senator strikes me as reasonable, good-humored and willing to work with Republicans to get things done.
So why has she performed so poorly so far in the caucuses, far behind most of the other candidates? Polls show her hovering around 1 percent. She needs to rally, and I wondered what it would take.
My search took me this week to a farm northwest of Ankeny.
“I’m sorry but I’m from New Jersey,” a young man said, having trouble maneuvering the parking lot. “I’ve never driven on grass like this before.”
About 40 volunteers and campaign staffers wore “Amy!” T-shirts on the sunny morning, while TV reporters complained about the unreasonable demands of their producers. A giant American flag and two Farmall tractors provided the backdrop.
Klobuchar poked fun at the rivalry between Iowa and Minnesota.
“You’re first in corn and hogs,” she said. “We’re first in sweet corn, sugar beats and turkeys. There’s nothing Iowa likes to make fun of more than Minnesota is first in turkeys.”
But it was the two states’ — and the entire Midwest’s — shared interest in agriculture than Klobuchar focused on most during the first of her 20-county tour.
“Bridging the rural-urban divide has been my message,” she said.
The ranking member of the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, Klobochar proposed an ambitious agriculture program that touched on everything from energy to child care.
“If I’m president I’m not going to treat our farmers like poker chips in a bankrupt casino,” she said.
She referred to Norman Borlaug, the Iowa-born Nobel Peace Prize winner whose “Green Revolution” saved an estimated one billion lives.
With a nod to the caucuses, Klobuchar said, “So many good things have come out of Iowa.”
Her agriculture plan included keeping young people on farms, expanding markets, improving bankruptcy laws, enacting anti-trust laws and increasing access to land and capital.
She said America has lost 70,000 family farms between 2012 and 2017.
“I don’t need to tell you this,” she said, “You lived it.”
You’d think that Iowans would be attracted to perhaps the only candidate who talks about agriculture issues. But Klobuchar can’t seem to gain any traction.
I think I know why: She’s too nice. Democrats are in no mood for thoughtful analysis. They want to know who can take on Donald Trump, and the angrier the better.
Bernie Sanders is angry. Elizabeth Warren is angry, Kamala Harris is angry at Joe Biden. Pete Buttigieg seems fairly calm, until he talks about Mike Pence.
Klobuchar, meanwhile, has done little to enter the scrum.
But someone out there is discussing why what happens in rural America is important to urban America.
For example, “As president I’ll cut child poverty in half in 10 years and end child poverty within a generation.”
Klobuchar also said it’s time for the country to focus on mental health issues.
One in five Americans suffer from a mental health problem, she said. One in two suffer from an addiction.
Klobuchar’s strategy is to portray herself as the candidate who can win Midwestern states, which carried Trump to victory.
“The Midwest is going to matter, and it’s going to matter big time,” she said.
I liked her. Most of the people tin Ankeny seemed to as well. But that will get you 1 percent in the polls.
Ken Fuson lives in Des Moines. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.