I had missed an opportunity to see Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar closer to home, so I did not mind driving up to Decorah for this event. Decorah is a beautiful little town tucked in the very northeast corner of Iowa not far from the Minnesota border. Besides, she was scheduled to speak at a place called the Lingonberry, which sounded like somewhere I might be able to get a good cup of coffee and perhaps one of those Norwegian pastries.
It took me a little longer to get to Decorah than I had planned, and then a farmer’s market was happening in the lot where I thought I could park, so by the time I got to the Lingonberry, it was almost the official start time. All the seats were taken in a brick lined room that seemed to have no other apparent purpose than hosting presidential candidates. I wasn’t going to be getting coffee and a pastry, but I was able to stand right near the makeshift stage.
The crowd was probably around 150, which was good for a Saturday morning in a small town, but it wasn’t the most diverse group I’ve seen. Almost everyone was white, middle-aged or retired, and relatively affluent (to the extent I can read such qualities off of clothing and haircuts).I don’t know if this was a reflection of Klobuchar’s appeal or just the demographics of Decorah. However, I should note that there was one millennial studiously reading a David Sedaris book and ignoring everything around her.
Everyone was on good behavior. The most exciting thing that happened in the run up to the event was that one of the “Amy” signs fell off the wall. While three staffers ran up to retape it, people in the audience shouted out adhesive suggestions. When the sign was reattached to the wall, there was applause. It was an “ Iowa nice” crowd.
We were prepped by a local official who noted he lived so close to Minnesota that he could see it from his deck. He also informed us that it was the Senator’s birthday, so when she arrived pretty close to on time, we all sang “Happy Birthday,” and I got to shake her hand on her way in. Klobuchar began on a light note, joking about the time she was introduced as “Minnesota’s senior citizen” instead of Senator. She also milked the Minnesota/Iowa connection for all it was worth, telling stories to an appreciative audience about meeting the King of Norway, detailing her grandfather’s work as a miner in Minnesota, and offering a shout out to former Iowa Senator Tom Harkin. She also had family in tow, with her husband and daughter in attendance.
Of course, there was policy as well. Klobuchar knows her issues and can get into the nuts and bolts of legislation that she wants to pass. She spoke a fair amount about agricultural and education policy, and noted that on day one of a Klobuchar administration the U. S. would rejoin the Paris climate accords. On day two she would restore Obama era pollution controls.
That said, her agenda is not the most ambitious I have heard on the campaign trail. She supports allowing for student loan debt to be refinanced and for expanded Pell Grants, but she does not go as far as the free college tuition plans that other candidates, such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, have endorsed. Similarly, she supports a public health care option within Obamacare but not Medicare for All. Klobuchar’s emphasis, as she stated, is “getting things done” and focusing on “bread and butter issues.” As a midwestern candidate, she made a case very similar to Pete Buttigeig’s about her ability to win back states that flipped to Trump and to be competitive in non-Democratic areas.
The one surprise of her talk was an anecdote she only recently has begun sharing involving the late-Senator John McCain. Apparently, she sat between Senators John McCain and Bernie Sanders at Trump’s inauguration speech, the one that George W. Bush reportedly described as “weird sh*t” (Bush’s description, not Klobuchar’s). While President Trump spoke, Senator McCain began listing the names of various dictators under his breath while listening to Trump’s recitation of “American carnage.”
Overall, Klobuchar gave an upbeat, forward-looking speech, and the only time a little edge emerged was during the question-and-answer session when an ACLU member was called on and pulled out a pre-written question while a friend fumbled with a phone to record it. The Senator was a little piqued to have to stand there waiting just to be called out on the carpet. The question had to do with the number of detained persons at the Southern border and whether Klobuchar would pledge to a specific number of reduced imprisonments. She would not, though, of course, she did not support Trump’s detention policy or anything he was doing at the Southern border.
The questions ranged from notably informed to pretty crackpot. A member of a local climate group wanted her to commit to a carbon tax. She said it was “one of the things we can look at.” I was impressed that in response to a question about mental health care, she was able to reference Iowa’s particularly bad situation, with only 64 beds for public residential mental health care in the whole state. Someone else asked her a question she hadn’t heard before about whether she worried Trump would not support the peaceful transition of power if he lost re-election (you might remember Michael Cohen sharing such a concern in his recent Congressional testimony). This provoked some nervous laughter in the crowd. Klobuchar wasn’t going to encourage any conspiratorial thinking, but she did say that she worried about a close election and supported backup paper ballots for all elections.
And then, if you can believe it, one guy has the gall to suggest that instead of running for President, she should run as Buttigieg’s vice president! Wow, that let me see how quickly an “Iowa nice” crowd could turn ugly. People booed the guy and began heckling him. I wondered if someone might drag him out into an alley and rough him up. Well, okay, it’s still Iowa, maybe someone would drag him out into an alley and have a heartfelt conversation about manners and how we treat our guests. Actually, Klobuchar handled this moment really smoothly. She was not at all thrown off and had a good comeback about how she supported having lots of candidates in the race, saying “may the best woman win.”
When the event was over, I happened to be right next to where Klobuchar was greeting people. There was a sweet moment where a dad brought some “Amy” campaign signs up for her signature so he could give them to his daughters. I got to wish her “Happy Birthday” before my picture was taken with her. As I left the Lingonberry, it was a beautiful, early summer day in an idyllic small town. Plenty of people were wandering the downtown strip, moving in and out stores and sharing warm greetings. I found a nearby coffee shop and was able to buy my long-deferred pastry. It was worth the trip.