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As The Democratic Presidential Field Thins, Sen. Amy Klobuchar Is Hanging Tough


Weak poll numbers and anemic fundraising have led some Democratic presidential hopefuls to call it quits - not Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar. She's running an aggressive campaign in Iowa, a state that in the past has rewarded candidates who spend lots of time on the ground. Klobuchar is now drawing a small but growing audience in Iowa, as NPR's Don Gonyea saw on a recent tour.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: These are not blockbuster events the Klobuchar campaign is hosting.


AMY KLOBUCHAR: Hello. Hi there. OK, here we are. Thank you.

GONYEA: It's old-school Iowa politicking. Small is just fine as long as people show up and pay attention, like this roundtable on jobs at the Machinists Union Hall in Des Moines.


KLOBUCHAR: You all know my background, which is a heavy-duty union background. My grandpa was an iron ore miner who worked 1,500 feet underground.

GONYEA: Her manner, her voice reinforce that she's one of them.


KLOBUCHAR: I don't come from money, and I don't have a political machine. But what I do have is grit.

GONYEA: And this on President Trump at a gathering of farmers in the town of Grinnell.


KLOBUCHAR: And the way I see this is he is literally treating our farmers like poker chips in one of his bankrupt casinos.

GONYEA: People line up for selfies with the candidate.

All right, right up here. Got a couple good ones for you.

Some pledge to show up on caucus day for Klobuchar. Names and contact info are collected.

In Dubuque over the weekend, Kris Erickson Eipperle (ph), a retired counselor, says she's gotten on board for Klobuchar, who was at 6% in recent polls, well behind the leaders, but above the bottom tier as well.

KRIS ERICKSON EIPPERLE: She did well in the last debate, and it seems like a lot more programs are giving her airtime and mentioning her by name.

GONYEA: There's a model Klobuchar is attempting to follow - do the work, meet countless people. And maybe, maybe that will pay off with a better-than-expected showing on caucus day. Democrat John Kerry did that with a surge in the polls and then a caucus win in 2004. On the Republican side, in 2012, Rick Santorum and his driver hit all 99 Iowa counties in a pickup truck before a surprise comeback win in the caucuses.

Fundraising is up for Klobuchar, and she's getting lots of local endorsements. Now she needs to win over undecided Democrats. You hear a lot of this at her events. Here is voter Delores Carroll (ph) in Chariton.

DELORES CARROLL: I really like Amy Klobuchar. I've been a Biden fan since the first time he ran. I'm just watching all of them and listening.

GONYEA: Klobuchar draws a lot of centrist and moderate Democrats, many of whom say they're considering Pete Buttigieg as well. And now we have the arrival of billionaire and former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who's courting the very same moderate Democratic votes, mostly with ads that are all over Iowa TV. I asked Klobuchar about that.

I wake up in the morning at my hotel, and there's Mike Bloomberg on my television multiple times.

KLOBUCHAR: Exactly. Now, I want you to picture being me. And you are, you know, at an event in a small town. And you've got, like, 30, 40 people, and then someone calls you - a friend from New York City - and says the same thing, I just saw Mike Bloomberg on an ad seven times. And it does seem absurd.

GONYEA: You need money to run ads, she says, but don't underestimate the power of doing the work on the ground in an early state.

KLOBUCHAR: Because it gives candidates a chance to get out there and voters a chance to really meet people and make a decision.

GONYEA: Klobuchar talked that day having just visited No. 70 of Iowa's 99 counties, and she pledged to hit them all before the caucuses in early February.

Don Gonyea, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF TINARIWEN SONG, "TIWAYYEN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.
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