Can Midwesterner Amy Klobuchar Find Support in Iowa?

Iowa Democrats’ preference for Midwesterners may work to Amy Klobuchar’s advantage.

Whatever strategic reasoning influenced Amy Klobuchar to announce her almost-certain decision to run for President, the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses surely must have played a role.  Historically, Midwestern candidates have had a slight advantage in these contests.

No Midwestern candidates competed in the 2016 caucuses.

In 1988, both Representative Richard Gephardt of Missouri and Senator Paul Simon of Illinois out-polled Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, the eventual nominee.  Four years later Iowa’s own Senator Tom Harkin took a run at the presidency and swamped his competitors.  Gephardt ran again in 2004, but both he and perennial left-wing challenger Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich could only muster twelve percent between them against their major competitors, Senators John Kerry from Massachusetts and John Edwards of North Carolina.  Four years later the candidate from neighboring Illinois, Senator Barack Obama, bested both Edwards and Hillary Clinton in the Iowa caucuses.

Iowans seem to display a slight preference for viable Midwestern candidates. Harkin’s favorite-son endorsement in 1992 needs to be set aside, but both Gephardt and Simon showed considerable strength in Iowa. Even Barack Obama’s victory in 2008 fits the pattern. While his position as a Senator from Illinois was hardly his most noteworthy feature as a candidate, it might have swayed some Iowans who might otherwise have voted for Edwards or Clinton.  Unfortunately the 2016 campaign did not provide any mid-Western contenders whose performance we might evaluate.

The down side for Klobuchar is that, among these Midwestern candidates, only Barack Obama won the nomination.  On the other hand, the winner of the Iowa caucuses in the past three competitive primaries, Kerry, Obama, and Hillary Clinton, went on to become the nominee. Can Klobuchar employ “Minnesota nice” to attract a similar plurality among Iowans next February?  In the two Iowa polls released so far she’s running at three percent.  Even in a field as crowded as 2020’s, she’d need to win well over a quarter of the caucus vote to have a chance at victory.