Just days before the first-in-the-nation caucus in Iowa, two dozen Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar fans gather at a supporter’s two-story house in Prole, Iowa to tuck into steaming plates of hot dish, a Minnesota speciality that involves ground beef, cream of mushroom soup and tater tots. With the candidate herself stuck in Washington for the impeachment trial, the headline speaker is Abigail Bessler, her 24-year-old daughter.
The scene is decidedly unpretentious. Hot dish, which was used to conserve meat during World War I, is hardly haute cuisine, and two ducks—yes, ducks—quack in protest after being confined upstairs, behind a bathroom door. Bessler herself, the product of K-12 public schools, seems down-to-earth—she is the rare millennial without any social media accounts—and offers a modest stump speech.
“Even though that seems like a small thing, I think it’s a really big deal,” Bessler is telling the crowd, describing a piece of bipartisan swimming pool safety legislation that her mother helped pass in 2007 after part of a Minnesota girl’s intestinal tract was sucked out by a pool drain. The legislation had been stalled in Congress for years, but Klobuchar pushed the issue and then won an amendment that made the bill more expansive: not only would new safety restrictions regulating the strength of drains apply to new pools, but also to existing ones.
“People should be focused on any issue that comes to them,” Bessler concludes, “and be thinking bigger about how we can prevent these types of things from happening.”
If pool safety legislation is unusual fodder for a presidential campaign, Klobuchar’s supporters don’t miss the underlying theme: Klobuchar, who has been an elected official for 21 years, has built a solid, if unflashy, reputation as a diligent, bipartisan and pragmatic leader.
And if no issue is too small for Klobuchar to take on, then neither is any group of potential Klobuchar voters. She’s the only Democratic candidate who made it to the last debate stage to have hosted campaign events in all 99 Iowa counties.
“It’s part of the philosophy that she’s always had about politics, which is that you go everywhere you meet people where they are, and you don’t discount a single person or a single area, whether they live in a red, blue or purple county,” Bessler says.
Jana Erickson, a self-described moderate and the hostess of Thursday’s potluck dinner, says that grassroots philosophy is what drew her to Klobuchar’s camp. Erickson wants a President, she says, who can work with Republican members of Congress. If Senator Bernie Sanders wins the White House, Erickson worries he’ll have a hard time getting any progressive policy goals accomplished.
“You end up with a Senate that is just going to oppose him the whole time. Is he gonna get anything done with Mitch McConnell? Hell No,” she says. “You get more done in the middle.”
Klobuchar has three more days to get that message out. Though she is polling around 10% in the Hawkeye state, she must reach at least 15% of caucus-goers in precincts on Monday night.
In the meantime, Klobuchar remains constitutionally obligated to attend the duration of Trump’s Senate impeachment trial in Washington. Bessler, who is using up all her paid time off from her job in the New York City Council’s office, doesn’t mind subbing in, she says. “Who better to talk about my mom,” she says with a smile, “than someone who’s known her her whole life?”