DES MOINES, Iowa — The pressure is on Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar as she heads into the final Iowa Democratic presidential debate Tuesday night, to make the most of the national spotlight and to win over Iowans who are still on the fence.
Klobuchar has backed up her well-organized ground game with advertising projecting an image of a can-do Midwestern moderate who has proven she can win in areas that supported President Trump in 2016.
She has visited all 99 counties in the Hawkeye State, even in Republican strongholds. But three weeks before the Feb. 3 Iowa Caucuses, Klobuchar has yet to break into the top four in the polls here in the Hawkeye State.
"But then there’s the race against the ghost, and the ghost is do you do as well as expected?" Karen Kedrowski, director of the Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University, told KARE.
"I think Klobuchar can get the most out of Iowa if she can beat the expectations game. Even if she doesn’t come in first, maybe she cracks the top four and that becomes one of the big stories."
Kedrowski said that Klobuchar garnered a lot of positive attention when she sparred with South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg in the most recent debate.
"She scored a really important point in her criticism of Pete Buttigieg, who really was dismissing the experience that not just Klobuchar has but most of the people on the stage have, including vice president Biden," Kedrowski remarked.
"Klobuchar was very clearly prepared for that question, and it didn’t come off as self-serving because she talked about it in the context of multiple people on the stage."
Klobuchar is one of only six candidates who've qualified for Tuesday's CNN-Des Moines Register debate, hosted by Drake University in Des Moines. They'll square off in historic Sheslow Auditorium, which is a very intimate venue compared to many of the debate halls in this election cycle.
A media filing room and the "spin room" are set up across the Drake Campus at the Bell Center, located behind the Knapp Center where the Drake basketball team plays.
When the field was more crowded Klobuchar had to battle for a chance to speak, but in the most recent debate in New Hampshire Klobuchar was second only to Sen. Bernie Sanders in speaking time.
Minnesota's third-term senator drew attention in social media and entertainment shows for her bangs in one debate. Kedrowski said that's a sign that Klobuchar wasn't committing any gaffes that could be mocked.
It's also a sign that the public holds female presidential candidates to different standards. Klobuchar has drawn attention for repeating some of her talking points and one-liners at multiple events.
Kedrowski says nobody has raised that issue with Sen. Sanders, who has recycled and revived many of his 2016 rhetoric for 2020.
"The fact that women are expected to be spontaneous, and kind, and friendly, and have their hair in place, and, and, and, shows that there’s a double standard."