DES MOINES — Democratic presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar's mental health plan has inspired her first Iowa endorsement.

State Rep. Ruth Ann Gaines, one of Iowa's four black legislators, is the mother of a son with developmental and mental disorders. She said Klobuchar made a personal impression on her when the two exchanged ideas to improve mental health services during a one-on-one breakfast.

"I really like her, sincerely. She's down to earth and approachable. She's not proud or cocky," Gaines said. "I could see this is a person who, if elected president, will do a great job, not only in the mental health area but primarily in listening to people and understanding their needs and then getting to work on trying to help them."

And that's what Klobuchar did: Following their breakfast meeting, the Minnesota senator connected Gaines with an organization that helps parents of mentally ill children. It was a relief to Gaines, who has struggled to get her son the medical help he needs.

"She was one of my last hopes," Gaines said.

That personal touch made the difference: Now, Gaines plans to promote Klobuchar within her northeastern Des Moines area by hosting her at one of her fundraisers and working to bring other endorsements onboard to the campaign.

Klobuchar announced her campaign in February and was one of the first 2020 Democratic presidential candidates to unveil a mental health proposal, which includes an expansion in treatment facilities and local behavioral health centers as well as a national mental health awareness campaign and investments in federal research into behavioral health and addiction issues.

The endorsement comes just ahead of this weekend's Iowa Democratic Party Hall of Fame fundraiser, the first major cattle call of the 2020 Iowa caucus season. Nineteen Democratic White House hopefuls will speak Sunday at the event, which Iowa political observers see as an opportunity to evaluate the candidates' organizational strength.

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