‘Ranch Girl,’ whose exploits went viral online after a Kirsten Gillibrand event, on the pressures of fame

A simple moment between a UI student on the search for ranch dressing and 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand garnered national media attention.


Elena Alvarez

Hanna Kinney, Iowa City’s very own “Ranch Girl,” poses for a portrait at The Airliner Bar on Monday, Feb. 25, 2019. Kinney went viral after appearing in a video attempting to get past Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. at a campaign event on Feb. 18, 2019, saying, “I’m just trying to get some ranch.”

Kate Pixley, News Reporter

An Iowa City woman’s bid for ranch dressing at a Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand campaign event last week has garnered national media attention.

University of Iowa student Hanna Kinney was leading a Bible study on the second floor of the Airliner while 2020 presidential hopeful Gillibrand held a town hall on the main floor.

Kinney, who leads the Freshman Connect Bible Group (which she has been a part of for three years), said she was the designated member assigned to fetch the ranch dressing for the rest of the group.

“I saw there was something going on, and I thought ‘Classic Iowa,’ ” Kinney said. “I was trying to get through the crowd, and I’m pretty short. I didn’t want people to think I was cutting in front of them, and I didn’t have a question, which is why I put my hands up.”

This moment created an online firestorm, with media outlets such as CNN, the Washington Post, and Elle all running stories.

Because the 10-second oral exchange went viral, Gillibrand responded on Twitter.

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“Two important things I know about Iowa: The caucus-goers are engaged and wonderful, and never get between a Midwesterner and their ranch,” Gillibrand wrote in her tweet.

Within 24 hours of the incident, local clothing store Raygun had a “Ranch Girl” shirt available online, Raygun employee Joseph Heurmann said.

“There’s looking at what’s on the internet … CNN did a story about it, and a couple other pretty great news networks, so something happens, and it was pretty instantly spread beyond just Iowa,” Heurmann said.

Airliner employee Ceci Fernandes said the national media attention has been beneficial, if not unusual.

“Most of the attention was online, and like a lot of things, something viral doesn’t necessarily impact our day-to-day here, so I don’t think we’ve had anything crazy happen,” Fernandes said. “But [Kinney] did come in to eat last night, and everybody immediately recognized her, so that was kind of funny.”

It was exciting for the Airliner staff to see the restaurant on “The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon,” who cracked a joke about the ranch exchange, Fernandes said.

Kinney said, however, the attention has not come without at least a few downfalls.

“The negative comments — it’s like 1 to every 1,000 positive comments,” she said. “But every time I get one of those [negative comments], the next day people are like ‘Ranch Girl 2020.’” 

She’s only responded to one negative comment, she said, in which an individual tried to body-shame her. Other than that, she said, she’s focused on the bright side.

“I think the internet is what you make it, and if I really wanted to focus on all the negative comments, I really could, but I just tend to focus on the positive and respond to the people who are responding positively to the tweets,” Kinney said. “The main takeaway is focus on the positive things on the internet but also in your life.”