In the Shadow of Hillary Clinton, Klobuchar Travels to Iowa

PHOTO: Amy Klobuchar
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If a Democrat goes to Iowa, and it isn't Hillary Clinton, does it count?

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar's trip to Iowa today may be just a hop and a skip over the border to a neighboring state, but its putting her squarely among the ranks of non-Clinton presidential contenders for 2016.

There is, after all, no accidental reason for a politician to be in Iowa -- ever. The problem: Even if she isn't in attendance, the specter of Hillary Clinton is still ever present.

Klobuchar speaks tonight at the annual Northern Iowa Democratic Party's Wing Ding fundraiser, a bastion of Democratic politics in the swing state that for the last 10 years has featured former presidential contenders like John Edwards in 2006 and Obama in 2007.

But former Secretary of State Clinton won't be far from the minds of the Iowans assembled. She'll receive the Beacon Award, for a "current or former elected Democrat who has embodied the principles of the Democratic Party and has accomplished significant Democratic ideals."

So where does that leave Klobuchar? Exactly where several other Democrats with presidential potential are for the upcoming contest: in limbo and persistently in Clinton's shadow.

When Vice President Joe Biden travels to Iowa in September, the cycle will repeat itself.

Klobuchar appeals to many Democrats who want badly to finally have a woman in the White House -- but, at the end of the day, she isn't Clinton.

"I think there are a lot of people like me who want to break the glass ceiling once and for all, and if Clinton decides to take a pass, I think Amy Klobuchar would be a great president," Ken Martin, chairman of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, told ABC News.

Klobuchar has answered the obvious questions about her travel to Iowa by saying simply: "It simply means I was invited to a wingding, and I think anything in Iowa makes a wingding out of a wingding, and that is all it is."

Decipher that.

But it's not hard to see why, even as a back-up in the event that Clinton decides against a White House run, both Klobuchar and other Democrats might want to groom her national profile.

Klobuchar is a relatively new addition to the Senate who President Obama dubbed the state's funniest senator -- leaving a former comedian, Sen. Al Franken, in second place.

Direct and savvy, she still manages project a little Minnesota nice.

"She's very charismatic. She loves to be around people," Martin said. "I've never seen her shy away from a tough fight."

And Klobuchar has broken a few glass ceilings herself, becoming the first female Minnesota voters sent to the U.S. Senate after a heralded run as a county attorney. She has won re-election by solid margins and connects with Midwestern values -- something of an anti-Michelle Bachmann, Martin said.

Scott Brennan, chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party, said she has built a reputation as someone who can work across the aisle in Congress and is just likable.

"She's a younger, newer member of the Senate, yet she has some of those old-time Senate skills: working across the aisle collegiately," Brennan said. "Everyone says negative campaigns work but, at the end of the day, people really do like people who are likeable."

"Look at Barack Obama: People may disagree with his political views, but people like him," he added.

The Klobuchar buzz may be less about Iowa -- associates of hers say this speech is much ado about very little since Klobuchar travels to Iowa often -- and more about the bench of Democratic officials and where they're headed in the post-Obama era.

Several others must navigate their future political trajectories with the looming presence of a Clinton presidential run. They include Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, who put his thumb on the scale last week in New Jersey's Democratic primary for U.S. Senate by backing another rising star, Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker; Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, another Senate newbie who has impressed with her work ethic and aptitude for retail politics; and Biden.

For some of the lesser known Democrats, raising a national profile is half the battle.

Gillibrand took a step to raise hers by inking a book deal with Ballantine Bantam Dell. The book is slated to be released in 2014 -- a formula followed by Clinton and Obama before their presidential runs. And she has defied Senate leadership with a push to take military sexual assault cases out of the military chain of command.

Both Gillibrand, 46, and Klobuchar, 53, are relatively young, leaving them plenty of time for the chattering class to speculate on their political futures.

"She's the kind of person on the national stage we'll wonder about and will wonder about for a long time," noted a longtime friend of Klobuchar's.

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