SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand started campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination Friday in the conservative northwest corner of the first state in the nomination calendar.
She did it just like generations of presidential candidates have done, campaigning person to person, handshake by handshake — and the Iowans who saw her said they liked what they heard.
“I was very impressed by her," said Diane Desy, 55, of Sioux City, a President Trump supporter who had a surprise encounter with the Democratic senator at a small shop called Sioux City Gifts.
Desy and Gillibrand chatted about immigration and veterans affairs. While they disagreed on the need for a wall along the Mexican border, they agreed on the need for comprehensive immigration reform.
It was the kind of civil political conversation that happens all the time in this state, where people get used to meeting presidential candidates. Gillibrand had a few others like it as she worked her way through a Sioux City coffee shop, talking to several voters who said they were unfamiliar with her before Friday.
More than once along the way, Gillibrand returned to the same message.
“I feel it’s my job to get things done, and the only way to do that is to start by listening,” she said. “If you do that first, you can start bringing people together.”
Gillibrand announced her presidential bid Tuesday during an appearance on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”
But her campaign stops in Sioux city Friday and full schedule of appearances in the Des Moines area on Saturday constitute her first chance since then to meet voters.
Doing so on Friday, she didn’t hear any of the tough questions reporters have been asking her. Not one voter asked about her controversial call for Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, to resign from the Senate amid allegations that he inappropriately touched several women. Not one voter asked about her campaign pledge just three months ago to serve a full six-year term in the Senate if re-elected.
Instead, they asked her about farm policy — and she replied with a detailed answer about agriculture in upstate New York.
They asked her about health care, and above all, they asked how Democrats can beat Trump in 2020.
To do that, Gillibrand said, Democrats should try to win converts from among Trump voters.
“I think they just want someone to fight for them,” she said.
Gillibrand faced some tougher questions from the press.
Asked about a Buzzfeed report that Trump told his lawyer, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress, she said: “It’s very disconcerting.” Stopping short of calling for Trump’s impeachment, she said the story was proof that Congress should pass legislation protecting special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of the Trump administration.
She also called for the resignation of U.S. Rep. Steve King, a Republican who represents the Sioux City area, because of his comments to The New York Times questioning why white supremacy is considered offensive.
Voters, though, focused more on issues that affect them directly, and they praised Gillibrand for addressing them.
“I thought everything she said was first rate,” said Jakob Miles, 26, of Sioux City. “She definitely has a good message for the American people.”
Carter Smith, 29, grew up on an Iowa farm and liked what Gillibrand had to say about supporting farmers.
“She sounds like she knows what she’s talking about, and that’s very important to me,” he said.
Others said Gillibrand charmed them by taking the time to listen to their concerns.
“She’s lovely,” said Lou Ann Lindblade, 63, the owner of Sioux City Gifts.