NEWTON, Iowa — As an Iowa native, 18-year-old Kayla Cook is no stranger to the Hawkeye State's starring political role every four years as presidential candidates make their pitch to voters.
But this year is different for her — and not just because she will be able to officially caucus for the first time. Cook, who is used to following her parents to meet-and-greets supporting the Republican Party, is switching to the other side this election cycle and planning to vote for a Democrat.
“As a Republican, I look at where our nation is right now and I see a lot of division,” she said. “I just want to see unity in our country again and I know it can happen.”
Cook is pinning her hopes on the senator from next-door Minnesota, Amy Klobuchar. That’s why the 18-year-old stopped what she was doing on a Sunday afternoon for a meet-and-greet with the senator in Newton, Iowa.
It was a crowded room, with a few chairs, and standing room only at the Lemon Tree Tea House and Restaurant.
“I just know it needs to be someone who is moderate who cares both about the Republicans and Democrats and I believe she’s someone who could do that,” said Cook.
While most Democratic presidential candidates are stepping up their ground game in the key early state of Iowa, Klobuchar is making a big push in the state, hoping to continue to reach people like Cook.
It’s a crucial moment for her campaign as she tries to build momentum, which starts in the first-in-the-nation caucus state.
Klobuchar only has a few weeks left to qualify for the next Democratic debate in November. She needs a boost in the polls to reach that goal, which is part of the reason why she’s launching a digital ad campaign to target voters.
For three days straight, Klobuchar’s bright green bus traveled to Dubuque, Black Hawk, Gurthie and Jasper Counties to listen to the concerns from voters.
She spoke to veterans, restaurant owners and even companies like W2 fuel, a biodiesel company whose CEO Roy Strom told the press that his biodiesel plant was forced to close due to waivers granted from the current administration for oil refineries, which hurt the price value for biodiesel products.
“At the last debate, we’ve got a lot of attention nationally and brought in over a million dollars in small contributions in just 24 hours. We did that by reaching out to people,” said Klobuchar. “I don’t have the big state and I don’t have the big-name ID as some of these other people so, it’s going to take a little more time.”
Political analysts say it’s a do-or-die moment for Klobuchar’s campaign
“There’s still time for Sen. Klobuchar but the problem is she’s sort of had is that she’s looking for that middle lane or that moderate Democrat and Joe Biden was occupying that pretty strongly,” said Tim Hagle, professor of politics at the University of Iowa. “But now that he seems like he’s sort of fading a little bit, and if that continues, that opens up that lane.”
Complicating matters is South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who Hagle said is giving Klobuchar a run for her money as the stand-out Midwest candidate.
“With Klobuchar, at least what she has going for her is that she can say, 'I have experience in Congress, I know how to get things done,' and she can talk about all the things she has gotten done, so in that respect, she has an advantage,” Hagle said.