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On eve of Iowa caucuses, Minnesota Democrats stump for their chosen candidates

REUTERS/Eric Miller
Rep. Keith Ellison with Sen. Bernie Sanders and Jane O'Meara Sanders at a rally in St. Paul, Minnesota. Ellison is only one of two sitting members of Congress to endorse Sanders.

In three days — and after almost an interminable year of campaigning — Americans will finally begin the process of selecting the next president. On Monday night, Iowans will head to caucus sites around their state to select their preferred candidates for the Republican and Democratic Party nominations.

So far, three Minnesota Democrats — Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Rep. Tim Walz, and Rep. Keith Ellison — have hit the campaign trail in Iowa. Klobuchar and Walz have stumped for the Democratic front-runner, Hillary Clinton, while Ellison is backing the insurgent campaign of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Sen. Al Franken is officially backing Clinton too, but he has gone to New Hampshire to campaign for her ahead of that state’s February 9 primary. The three remaining Democrats — Reps. Betty McCollum, Rick Nolan, and Collin Peterson — have not officially endorsed anyone yet.

Minnesota’s three Republican representatives, meanwhile, have steered clear of their party’s primary process: not one has officially backed a GOP candidate yet.

Klobuchar campaigns with fellow Senate women

Klobuchar, who endorsed Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary, has logged some serious hours on the campaign trail for Clinton, and has emerged as a prominent surrogate for the candidate in the media.

In Iowa, Klobuchar has often appeared on the trail with a group of fellow Democratic women in the Senate. Earlier this month, she hit an event in the northeast Iowa town of Dubuque with a trio of colleagues: Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, and Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri.

And, on January 24, Klobuchar shared the stage with one of the many celebrities who’ve publicly supported Clinton. At an event in Waukee, on the western edge of Des Moines, Klobuchar plugged Clinton alongside actress Jamie Lee Curtis.

In a statement to MinnPost, Klobuchar said that her visits to Iowa have convinced her that Clinton “has a strong grassroots campaign in Iowa and across the country,” adding that “it helps that she grew up in the Midwest as well.” (Clinton is from a suburb of Chicago.)

Walz: A rural Democrat from a neighboring district

Though he might not be as familiar to non-Minnesotans as Klobuchar, Rep. Walz has been dispatched to Iowa to stump for Clinton. In December, he participated in a three-city swing, attending events at VFW halls in Dubuque and Waterloo, and a debate-watch party in Mason City. Walz formally backed Clinton last year, and he recalls positively the experience of working with then-Sen. Clinton on a veterans’ bill when he got to Congress in 2007.

The five-term congressman told MinnPost in an interview that the Clinton campaign reached out to him about going to Iowa, and probably for two reasons. For one, his First District runs the length of the Minnesota-Iowa border, and some media from the north spills into the south — so Walz is somewhat of a familiar face in that corner of the Hawkeye State.

Also, Walz — who grew up in rural Nebraska — is a rare House Democrat representing a rural area, and as such, is a valuable asset in Clinton’s effort to court those kinds of voters. His background as a non-commissioned officer in the Army National Guard and work on veterans’ issues doesn’t hurt, either. “They pick where you think you can make a difference,” he says.

Walz isn’t under any illusions that whoever wins Iowa will capture another Midwestern caucus state — Minnesota. He said that while his corner of Minnesota is very similar to Iowa, the states’ cultures are different, and trying to divine the outcome in Minnesota based on Iowa is useless. “It’s a long ways from being done,” he said, adding that he thinks people will end up supporting “pragmatic leadership, compromising to get things done, setting high goals. Minnesota tends to fall in that. But you can’t necessarily say anything because of Iowa.”

Walz acknowledged Iowa’s importance in the national process, but he didn’t seem jealous of it. “It’s healthy when people are engaged in the process. It’s neat,” he said. “It’s not a Minnesota-Iowa friction thing, they’re certainly punching above their weight. People who have won the caucus haven’t gone on to win the presidency. It distorts the process. I don’t think I’d wish it on Minnesota the way they do it.”

Ellison pleasantly surprised

Rep. Ellison, meanwhile, has broken with his Minnesota Democratic colleagues by backing Sanders. And in doing that, he’s also set himself apart from nearly all his congressional colleagues: Ellison is only one of two sitting members of Congress to endorse Sanders. (Over 180 Democratic lawmakers have officially endorsed Clinton.)

The Minneapolis congressman calls Sanders, the only Senate member of the Progressive Caucus, a good friend, and has stumped for him not just in Iowa, but in D.C., South Carolina, and Minnesota.

In December, Ellison tried to convince Iowans that Sanders deserves their support. At the height of the furor over GOP frontrunner Donald Trump’s comments about Muslims, Ellison appeared in Cedar Rapids — the site of the country’s longest-standing mosque — and told voters that supporting Sanders was a way to combat discrimination against Muslim-Americans.

Ellison heads to Iowa this weekend to do some last-minute stumping for the Vermonter. In an interview with MinnPost, Ellison said he is surprised by how well the 74-year-old progressive has been doing in the polls. In October, when he endorsed Sanders, he says he asked himself, “How can I, given everything I stood for, not support it even if we don’t win? I have to support it.” Now, he says, “I’m actually a little bit pleasantly surprised we’re doing as well as we are.”

Ellison says he’s confident Sanders will win Iowa if the big crowds the senator has attracted translate into caucus-goers. If it does, he says it’ll have big implications for Minnesota. “I certainly think that Iowa will start a chain of events… I think you can assume if it’s playing in Iowa, it’s probably playing in Minnesota,” he says, adding that the two states share a “common sensibility.”

It was clear, though, Ellison relishes the Iowa fray a little more than Walz. He admitted that he wishes Minnesota got the quadrennial national spotlight the way that its southern neighbor does.

“I think it would be interesting if we did… It’d be very interesting because Minnesota is very representative of most of the country in many ways. For now, we just gotta deal with the cards that’s dealt.”

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the state Sen. Baldwin represents.

Comments (17)

  1. Submitted by C.S. Senne on 01/29/2016 - 12:26 pm.

    Republican surprise

    “Minnesota’s three Republican representatives, meanwhile, have steered clear of their party’s primary process: not one has officially backed a GOP candidate yet.” Wow. What a shock! I’m waiting, waiting, with bated breath for a suggestion from my representative, Eric Paulsen…Waiting, waiting….

  2. Submitted by Jim Million on 01/29/2016 - 01:17 pm.


    Call his office.

  3. Submitted by Sydney Jordan on 01/29/2016 - 02:12 pm.

    Senator Tammy Baldwin

    …is from Wisconsin, not Illinois. Perhaps you are thinking of Rep. Tammy Duckworth who is running for Senate in Illinois?

  4. Submitted by Dennis Litfin on 01/29/2016 - 05:01 pm.


    has it right…Sanders is the man. Read the latest issue ( 2/8/16) of The Nation and .it’s evaluation of the three progressive candidates, and you will understand why the Presidential candidate who must oppose whatever survives the republican mess must be Bernie Sanders.

  5. Submitted by colin kline on 01/29/2016 - 05:43 pm.


    Sanders is the man

  6. Submitted by joe smith on 01/29/2016 - 07:15 pm.

    A socialist or a person the majority of people in a word association poll called a liar…… Oh the tough choice between Hillary and Bernie….. Decisions, decisions…

    • Submitted by Dennis Litfin on 01/29/2016 - 10:22 pm.

      Love the way

      regressives throw around the word ‘socialist’ following the party lapdog default of easy touch lingo while not really knowing what they are talking about. Usually name calling accompanies the responses.

      • Submitted by Jim Million on 01/30/2016 - 10:35 am.

        American Etymology

        Apparently, sometime soon after the Bolshevik Revolution, American Socialists purposely became “Progressives,” to distance themselves from the more negative European characteristics.

        Very interesting stuff can be found in the book Triangle, centered on the famous NY fire and filled with peripheral social discourse. It’s an interesting read for those who might like to step back into a time of early 20th Century political/social evolution.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 02/02/2016 - 09:44 am.

          Not Quite

          The American progressive movement started in the 1890s. Progressives stopped using that term after World War I, because of its associations with Wilsonian militarism.

          The Progressive Party nominated Henry Wallace for President in 1948.

      • Submitted by joe smith on 02/01/2016 - 09:19 am.

        Let’s see

        Free healthcare, free college, no Big Banks (only bigger Government i.e.: Bernie), free transportation, free daycare, free food, way higher taxes, way way bigger Top Down Government control of all things (again i.e.:Bernie)…. hmmmmmmm… sounds like socialism to me. Venezuela anyone??

  7. Submitted by John Ellenbecker on 01/30/2016 - 04:58 pm.

    Definition of socialism

    There is an actual dictionary definition of socialism – and it doesn’t seem to apply to how most “conservatives” use the word. Socialism doesn’t mean “anything that a conservative should be opposed to.”

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