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Will Klobuchar Help or Hurt Biden at the Iowa Caucuses?

2020 Democratic presidential candidate Senator Amy Klobuchar holds a campaign event in Mason City, Iowa, February 2, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Des Moines — Over the weekend, Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar drew a solid crowd of under 1,000 at a school gymnasium in Des Moines, but the event was something of a logistical nightmare. Her staffers let the gym fill up over capacity, and scores of Iowans left early because too many bodies standing shoulder to shoulder made it too hot. It was “sweatier than gymnastics,” one child remarked to her father upon leaving.

Several voters I spoke to after the event remained undecided. “I liked Amy a lot,” Kate Carter-Frederick of Des Moines told me, but she added she was still trying to decide between “probably four” candidates. “I’d say Amy’s right up there. And Pete. And Elizabeth. And Joe. But in no order.” She said she didn’t know how she would choose one of her four finalists in the final 48 hours.

Klobuchar did manage to seal the deal with some attendees. “She convinced me,” Ann from Waukee said. She liked that Klobuchar is a moderate and thinks “Biden has too much baggage at the moment.” But Darlene from Des Moines said she’d probably still vote for Biden. “I like him and I think he has the best chance to win,” she said.

Klobuchar has ticked up into the double digits in several recent polls and has drawn an increasing amount of interest, but the polls and conversations with voters suggest she has almost no chance of pulling off an upset along the lines of what Rick Santorum accomplished in 2012.

That year, the Iowa GOP caucuses broke late: Santorum surged when the religious right settled on its candidate very late in the game. He was down by 6.5 points in the RealClearPolitics polling average on the day of the caucuses and won by a hair. In 2020, Klobuchar has ticked upward in the polls and drawn an increasing amount of interest, but she has no real movement behind her. She’s sitting at 8.6 percent in the RealClearPolitics average, more than 15 points back from frontrunner Bernie Sanders. 

Still, anything from a strong third-place finish to failing to meet the 15 percent viability threshold in a majority of precincts would not be surprising. For Joe Biden, the more precincts in which Klobuchar fails to hit 15 percent, the better it is for him. A recent Siena/New York Times poll found that more than half of Klobuchar’s voters would pick Biden as their second choice. After that, the candidate to gain the most would be Elizabeth Warren: One out of six Klobuchar voters said they would pick her as a second choice. If Biden does well tonight, it will likely mean that Klobuchar did not.