DES MOINES – Sen. Amy Klobuchar appeared to be on track to finish in the top five in Iowa’s Democratic caucuses Monday night, keeping her presidential hopes alive as the contest shifts to New Hampshire.
Results of the caucuses were delayed late Monday, with candidates left to try to assess through their own campaigns how they had fared across the state. But those scattered precinct reports showed Klobuchar was collecting delegates and posting good results in a number of locations.
Speaking to reporters before a caucus got underway at Johnston Middle School, Klobuchar suggested that she would consider a finish in the top five a win.
“It is the first state but there’s many to follow,” Klobuchar said of Iowa, as she pointed out that she spent less on TV ads than the other top candidates. “A win is doing well and picking up support and enjoying the type of grassroots effort you need to win.”
With the vote counts delayed by technical problems at Democratic Party headquarters, Klobuchar came out and spoke for about 10 minutes to an energetic crowd of cheering supporters at a post-caucus party at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Des Moines. “You probably heard we don’t know the results,” she said, “We know there’s delays, but we know one thing: We are punching above our weight.”
Klobuchar’s main rivals are Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and former Vice President Joe Biden.
The finishing order of those five contenders is likely to shape perceptions of Klobuchar’s chances going forward. With Sanders and Warren running from further left, Klobuchar was competing with Buttigieg and Biden for the support of more moderate voters.
Klobuchar has been campaigning for president for nearly a year, and her chances against more well-known, better-funded Democratic candidates have always rested heavily on a robust showing in Iowa.
“She’s very intelligent, very personable and afraid of nothing,” said Carlyn Schriver, who caucused for Klobuchar at Lincoln Intermediate School in Mason City. Schriver said she’s a former Republican who sees Klobuchar as the best Democrat to unseat President Donald Trump. “I think she can stand up to anything Donald Trump can come up with.”
Iowa’s close affinity with Minnesota made it a natural target for Klobuchar, who even before her entry into the race last Feb. 10 had established herself as a regular speaker at Iowa Democratic Party events.
While she languished in low single digits in polls for much of last year in both Iowa and nationwide, Klobuchar’s campaign slowly built campaign infrastructure in Iowa and New Hampshire. She outlasted other big-name candidates who also banked on Iowa, including Sens. Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, and finally started to creep up in Iowa polls following several well-regarded debate performances.
Her ground game paid dividends Monday night. As the caucus at Johnston began, Klobuchar’s supporters scrambled to win over six caucusgoers after falling short of the 15% viability threshold in round one of the balloting, proving the importance of voters’ second choices.
“One more, we need one more,” Klobuchar precinct captain Teri Breck told a husband and wife who backed businessman Tom Steyer in the first round. “Come on, you can do it.”
After some debate that included several Biden supporters, Jessy and Derek Sadler decided to join Klobuchar even though she wasn’t their first or second choice.
“The strength is she’s middle of the road, we’re sick of the extremes,” Derek Sadler said. “Our biggest concern with her was African-American support, moving forward.”
Jean Berner, a 62-year-old who caucused in Mason City for Klobuchar, said she hopes to give her a bump into the next stage of the race. “If she does well in Iowa, she has the momentum to keep going,” Berner said.
The scramble in New Hampshire will dominate the Democratic race for the next seven days. Klobuchar had plans to campaign in Concord, Portsmouth and Nashua on Tuesday, and will headline a CNN Town Hall broadcast from the state Thursday.
Klobuchar’s campaign has opened seven offices in New Hampshire, where she has participated in 70 public events over 21 trips to the state. She landed endorsements from three of the state’s major newspapers, including its biggest, the Union Leader in Manchester.
She also qualified for the next Democratic debate on Friday in New Hampshire.
Jessie Van Berkel and Torey Van Oot contributed to this report.