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Why Amy Klobuchar has been dubbed ‘the queen’ of electability

Klobuchar was re-elected to the Senate in 2018 by a 24.1 percentage point margin, two years after Clinton carried Minnesota by just 1.5 points. That gap of 22.6 percentage points is the basis for Washington Post columnist David Byler’s conclusion.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar
Sen. Amy Klobuchar was re-elected to the Senate in 2018 by a 24.1 percentage point margin, two years after Clinton carried Minnesota by just 1.5 points.
MinnPost file photo by Bill Kelley

In a piece on Monday, looking at the “electability” of the 101 Dalmatians who are (or might be) seeking the Democratic presidential nomination for 2020, Minnesota’s senior senator, Amy Klobuchar, was dubbed “the queen” of electability.

David Byler, whose Post byline calls him “data analyst and political columnist,” claims to have data (or at least one datum) to back this up. It’s not the main point of Byler’s piece, although the column is illustrated with a photo of Klobuchar. So the Klobuchar buzz will surely get a bump from it.

This stuff is for the politically obsessed only. He took the margin by which each of the declared or publicly-mulling-a-bid candidates won their most recent election, and compares it with how Hillary Clinton did in the same state in her 2016 race against the current incumbent.

Klobuchar was re-elected to the Senate in 2018 by a 24.1 percentage point margin, two years after Clinton carried Minnesota by just 1.5 points. That enormous gap of 22.6 percentage points is the entire basis, at least within the Byler column, for declaring her the queen of electability.

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Other declared or undeclared presidential candidates who also ran for (and won) re-election recently (Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand and Sherrod Brown) are also on the graphic, plus former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who lost his bid for the Senate to incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz. All of the senators except Warren won their last re-election by a margin that compares favorably to the Trump/Clinton margin in the same state (or district). Though O’Rourke lost, it was by less than three points, while Clinton lost Texas by nine.

No one else came close to doing 22.6 percentage points better than Clinton. So that’s the whole basis for crowning Klobuchar queen.

Byler humbly and cheerfully acknowledges some of the shortcomings of this. And he doesn’t even mention that Klobuchar faced only token opposition, since Republicans focused on the other Senate race in Minnesota last year. By the end, you might be reminded of the old line that if you torture the numbers long enough, they’ll confess to anything. And, after all the acknowledgments, Byler concludes: “But it’s impossible to explain that gap away without attributing some real electability to her.”

I agree with that (much more modest) statement. But if Byler was trying to show appropriate modesty about what his analysis could prove, he was betrayed (this often happens) by the headline writer, who suffers from lack of space for complexity, who wrote:

“Want to know which Democrats can actually beat Trump? We don’t have to guess.”

(Me: Actually, we do have to guess. But that won’t stop us from guessing. Looking back at 2016, I would say that the assumption that Bernie Sanders was unelectable (for chrissake, he admits he’s a socialist) was a big factor that cost him the nomination. Now, looking back, we can’t help but wonder whether he might have done better than Clinton ultimately did.)

All caveats acknowledged, being crowned electability queen might add a talking point to the case for Klobuchar as she edges closer to what I take to be an almost inevitable announcement of her candidacy for the Big Enchilada.

The full Byler electability column is here.