While issues such as climate change and health care reform are important, the No. 1 challenge facing Democrats in this election cycle is defeating President Donald Trump, Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Amy Klobucbar said to a crowd of about 400 people Sunday in Ames.
And Klobuchar told the shoulder-to-shoulder audience at Jethro's BBQ Steak 'n Chop,where the overflow crowd forced organizers and restaurant staff to open a divider between meeting rooms to accommodate the large crowd just eight days before the Feb. 3 Iowa Caucuses.
Klobuchar has seen her numbers rise in recent polls and is in the top five, but continues to trail the top tier candidates, like former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
During an interview with the Ames Tribune following her speech, the senator from Minnesota said while she remains behind the front-runners, it's important for her to continue her momentum and finish strong coming out of Iowa and going into the following week's primary in New Hampshire, where a new NBC/Marist poll showed her polling at 10 percent.
"I think the value of these smaller states is that you really get out there," Klobuchar said. "These smaller states have allowed people to get to know me in a way that has allowed me to do better. The small state's evaluate you. They may not always pick the final winner, but you have to go through the gauntlet to get there.
"I think it's still an important part of the process regardless of the number you draw coming out."
Klobuchar is joined by Sanders and Warren as senators taken off the campaign trail as they sit as jurors for Trump's impeachment trial, and during her speech she apologized for not being able to get to Iowa more in the days leading up to the caucuses, saying it wasn't part of her plan.
Klobuchar told the Tribune that she is best positioned to defeat Trump in November.
"Look at what we have in the White House, look at what we're dealing with with this impeachment hearing," she said during her interview with the Tribune. "When you are on the front lines with this guy every single day in the arena, you see that as the No. 1 focus. That doesn't mean you don't have big, bold ideas. It just means you see the world as how can we bring more people with us so that we don't just eke by a victory, but that we win big."
Klobuchar, who describes herself as a practical progressive, said she's been able to find common ground to pass over 100 bills. She thinks that will help her appeal to moderate Republicans or those centrist Democrats who voted for Trump in 2016, particularly in Midwestern states.
"I want to have a unity message ... to bring people in so we have this big coalition. It's better for the soul of this country, better for getting things get," Klobuchar said. "I'm the one that brings the receipts. I have won in those areas. I have respect from Republicans from both in the Senate as well in my state. That's real. That's what I want to take out on the national stage, and I do it without selling out on my values."
Klobuchar's speech to the audience focused on defeating Trump. Voters need to do what Klobuchar described as a "decency check," and a "patriotism check," on the current president. But she also said she's toured those areas of the Midwest, Ohio and Pennsylvania that Trump won in 2016 and learned that people are also unhappy about Trump's unkept promises.
"My plan out of the that tour is, I've decided we're going to build a beautiful blue wall of Democratic votes around those states and make Donald Trump pay for it," Klobuchar said.
Beating Trump is also a top criteria for Stan Rabe, of Ames, who came out Sunday to hear Klobuchar because his first choice, Cory Booker, dropped out of the race.
"Joe Biden I think can beat Donald Trump, but I'd like to think a younger candidate can beat him as well," Rabe said.
Rabe said he's leaning toward Klobuchar or Buttigieg, saying he liked what he saw from Klobuchar.
"She's more of a centrist and she can get things done, and she's younger," Rabe said.
Klobuchar also discussed her healthcare plan, saying she would pass a nonprofit public option to create competition and bring healthcare rates down; take on pharmaceutical companies and erase a law that prohibits Medicare from negotiating rates for prescriptions; and bring in less expensive drugs from other countries. Capping international rates on drugs would generate $350 billion over 10 years to help pay for healthcare reform.
She said she would also focus on mental health and addiction treatment, using settlements with opiod companies to fund it. She also touched on long-term care and the need to make it easier to get insurance and lower premiums. She said taxing the annual appreciation on trusts in excess of $500,000 would raise $100 billion dollars to help people pay for long-term care.
Klobuchar also touted increased investment in K-12 education and trade schools and community colleges. She said it should be easier to get a four-year degree and that she would double Pell grants and allow students to refinance their student loans.
Klobuchar outlined her plan to combat climate change, which included re-entering the international climate change agreement, bringing back the clean power rules, bring back gas mileage standards and put a price on carbon.
Denise Vrchota said she came Sunday because she's still trying to become informed, but likes Klobuchar and plans to caucus for her on Feb. 3.
"She has experience in Congress, she is probably the top-running Democrat in being able to work across the aisle getting bills passed," Vrchota said. "She's smart. She's quick and to me she makes complete sense. She seems really strong to me."
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