Nov. 8 was a rude awakening for Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
Her hope for a U.S. Senate controlled by Democrats was destroyed. More surprisingly from Klobuchar’s perspective, Democrat Hillary Clinton failed to shatter the presidential glass ceiling. Klobuchar would need to come to terms with Donald Trump, a populist and unorthodox Republican, as the next president.
Now that Klobuchar’s shock has subsided, what does the Minnesota Democrat do with the political hand she’s been dealt?
At age 56, the timing may be perfect for her to declare her candidacy for governor and run for that coveted seat in 2018. The governorship may be a better political platform from which to govern, and it would position Klobuchar for a national ticket in the coming years. Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush all were elected to two terms as president after serving as governor.
Here are some of the reasons Klobuchar may be willing to leave Washington, D.C., for the most visible political post in Minnesota.
Serving in the minority is like treading water: After Donald Trump and new members of Congress are sworn into office in January, Washington, D.C., becomes an all-Republican town. Serving as a minority Democrat in the Senate may be akin to unleashing a cry into the wilderness.
In some cases, Republicans like John McCain will raise concerns over Trump initiatives, but many of the Democratic senators who will resist tax cuts and the repeal of Obamacare will simply be run over by the Trump Train.
Klobuchar’s U.S. Senate seat will be on the ballot in 2018, but she may choose to run for governor because Democratic majority prospects in the U.S. Senate are dim in 2018. Politico went so far as to characterize the 2018 U.S. Senate map as “brutal” for Democrats, and indicated that the GOP could gain a filibuster-proof majority.
Other gubernatorial candidates may be scarred by the 2017 session: When DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and the Republican-controlled Legislature face off over the next biennial budget, another government shutdown could ensue. If that happens, there could be plenty of blame assigned by voters.
A failure by state government actors to govern could harm the DFL candidacy of likely candidate Tina Smith, Dayton’s lieutenant governor. It also could hurt Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt, another potential governor candidate.
Klobuchar would be unscathed by the political skirmishing in St. Paul and could capitalize on her statewide popularity in seeking a DFL endorsement for governor.
Klobuchar could bridge Minnesota’s rural-urban divide: One of the loudest messages of the 2016 election is that many rural residents don’t feel understood or heard by the political establishments in Washington and St. Paul. In particular, many rural residents were upset by the costs of health care.
The shouts for change were evident in the votes to give Republicans, at all levels, a chance to govern. Those actions resulted in GOP control of the Minnesota House and Senate. They also meant that veteran DFL congressmen, Collin Peterson in the 7th District and Tim Walz in the 1st District, won narrow victories with 52.47 percent and 50.34 percent, respectively.
In the 2016 election, when 74.7 percent of eligible Minnesota voters cast ballots, Minnesota became a purple state. The political terrain has been transformed. Any statewide candidate in the Democratic or Republican parties must have the ability to appeal to rural, urban and suburban voters.
Klobuchar has won statewide twice: It is extremely difficult for a first-time candidate to become known in Minnesota’s 87 counties and win a statewide race. Klobuchar was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006 with 58 percent of the vote when she defeated Republican Mark Kennedy, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives. Few Republicans raised their hands to run against Klobuchar in 2012, when she was re-elected with 65 percent of the vote.
When you talk to independent voters, they tend to speak well of Klobuchar because she is viewed as a common-sense, middle-of-the-road Democrat who cut her political teeth as a prosecutor.
In both political parties, people are starting to line up to become candidates for the 2018 governor’s race. DFL state Rep. Erin Murphy and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, also a DFLer, already have announced.
Minnesota voters would likely give Klobuchar another term in the U.S. Senate in 2018. But the more intriguing job may be governor of Minnesota. Because Klobuchar is a political heavyweight, it’s incumbent on her to make a decision sooner rather than later. Whatever she does will have a profound impact on the players in the 2018 governor’s race.
Liz Fedor is an editor at Twin Cities Business magazine. Earlier this year, she served as a residential fellow at the McCarthy Center for Public Policy and Civic Engagement at St. John’s University.
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