While several leading Republicans have visited Iowa to lay the groundwork for possible presidential runs, until Friday not a single Democrat considering a run for the White House in 2016 had traveled to the nation’s first-voting state. Even though Sen. Amy Klobuchar is a decidedly long shot in her party’s sweepstakes, her trip to Clear Lake over the weekend marked a beginning for Democrats in Iowa. And perhaps more importantly, it illustrated the dilemma facing every Democrat not named Clinton who is thinking about running for president.
As Democrats convened in Clear Lake’s Surf Ballroom for their annual Wing Ding fundraiser, the presence of Mrs. Clinton was so powerful, and the assumption that she would be the Democrats’ 2016 nominee was so strong, that Klobuchar appeared to conclude that her only choice was to campaign for vice president.
“You are the state that has gained notoriety for picking the country’s presidents,” she told the audience in an extended comparison between Iowa and her home state of Minnesota, “and we are the state, thanks to the great Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale, that supplies the country with vice presidents.”
“In fact,” Klobuchar continued, “it is a long-time tradition in Minnesota that new moms, gushing with pride, bounce their babies on their knee and say, ‘One day you can be growing up to be vice president.’”
Even when Klobuchar made a joke at the expense of the most famous vice-presidential candidate in recent years — “I am literally only two hours from here, and I can see Iowa from my porch!” — it only served to position her as a candidate for the second place on the ticket. And when she became serious, she had to pay tribute to Clinton for “the incredible work that [she] has done promoting economic opportunity for all, making the country a safer place, and the incredible work she has done for women, in the Senate, in the country, and all over the world.”
The shadow of Clinton hung over the Surf Ballroom, and not just in Klobuchar’s remarks. Before Klobuchar spoke, the party gave its annual Beacon Award to none other than Mrs. Clinton (who was, of course, not there). Accepting the award on Clinton’s behalf was a woman named Joy Newcom, who just happened to be the Winnebago County chairman of the Clinton campaign back in 2008. No paid advertising could have portrayed Clinton in any more favorable light. “I don’t think any of us have lived to see a woman achieve a greater set of goals,” Newcom said. “Hillary Clinton, this beacon of light, her beacon of light, has shone regardless of the title she has held.”
Is there any way Newcom, or any of the voters, especially women voters, who so strongly supported Clinton the last time around — the ones who had a difficult time accepting Barack Obama’s victory in the hard-fought 2008 Democratic primaries — is there any way they would ever support any other candidate, if Clinton is in the 2016 field? That’s hard to imagine, even if the other candidate is a woman, like Klobuchar or Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Away from the stage, Klobuchar had to heap even more praise on Mrs. Clinton. “She’d be great,” Klobuchar told the Des Moines Register. Saying she would like to see Mrs. Clinton run, Klobuchar told the paper, “I have a lot of respect for her, but she’s going to have to make that decision, and I know there’s other people interested as well, so we’ll have to see.”
In all, Klobuchar’s Iowa visit posed a difficult question for Democrats with 2016 ambitions: How can a candidate campaign for himself or herself if so much tribute must be paid to Hillary Clinton? By all accounts, Mrs. Clinton can afford to wait quite a while before she enters the race and has to attend events like the North Iowa Democratic Party Wing Ding. In the months — perhaps more than a year — before she has to make a decision, what can other Democrats do? Campaign for themselves while saying how great it will be if Clinton enters the race? It’s a terrible choice for any Democrat trying to move ahead in the race.
Klobuchar’s choice was simple: Campaign for vice president. Then, if for some reason Hillary Clinton does not run, Klobuchar will benefit from all the early positioning work. In the future, it might not be unusual to see other Democrats making the same choice.