Amy Klobuchar is the only one not talking about Amy Klobuchar running for president in 2020

Sen. Amy Klobuchar
MinnPost photo by Bill Kelley
Sen. Amy Klobuchar speaking to members of the press at the DFL gathering on Election Night.

It was Election Night 2018 on Twitter, and the national pundit class was suddenly very interested in Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s margins of victory in rural Minnesota.

Josh Barro, a centrist columnist for New York Magazine, tweeted out a map of Minnesota displaying the votes garnered by Klobuchar versus her Republican opponent, Jim Newberger: not only did the map show Klobuchar’s overall 26-point, 400,000-vote lead (she would ultimately win by 600,000 votes) it also showed her turning blue what are normally deep-red counties in rural parts of the state — 43 counties, to be exact, that Donald Trump won in 2016.

Barro presented the map with a brief bit of commentary dripping in subtext: “I have a tip for Democrats who would like to not just beat Trump in 2020,” he said, “but bury him.”

That Klobuchar easily secured a third term in the U.S. Senate in last Tuesday’s midterm was no surprise. Also no surprise: that her victory would add to growing buzz about the Minnesota Democrat as a viable candidate for president in 2020.

Indeed, plenty of pundits from the Beltway to the Midwest touted Klobuchar’s performance on Tuesday night, arguing that her strong showing in urban, suburban, and rural areas — and in a deeply divided heartland state, no less — were an advantage that few other 2020 Democratic hopefuls could boast in making the case against a second term of Donald Trump.

That the blue map Barro tweeted out — a tantalizing image to a party still coming to grips with the loss of working-class white voters in the Midwest in 2016 — came on the heels of a breakout moment for Klobuchar in the high-profile hearings over Brett Kavanaugh and sexual assault only added lighter fuel to an already-burning fire of White House speculation around the senator.

To date, Klobuchar has remained predictably coy about any ambitions — rumored for years — beyond serving as Minnesota’s senior U.S. Senator. But for her and for several other possible 2020 candidates, last week’s midterm was the last fig leaf left to obscure an answer to the “are you running?” question. The next election on the calendar is now the all-important presidential one, and it appears that more people than ever are interested in Klobuchar’s answer to the big question.

Chasing Amy

Standing before an adoring crowd at the DFL Party’s election night celebration last week, Klobuchar declared in her victory speech that the Midwest was “left behind” in 2016.

“In 2018, Minnesota is roaring back to say, we are ‘One Minnesota,’” she said, invoking the campaign slogan of Gov.-elect Tim Walz that turned into a rallying cry for Minnesota Democrats in 2018. “It appears Minnesotans voted our dreams and not our fears. We voted for common sense and not blistering words. We voted for getting things done and not gamesmanship. And we voted for substance instead of subtweets… We voted for the way politics can be, should be, and with your help, will be.”

Political observers often parse the tea leaves of speeches like these, looking for notes of foreshadowing for an imminent presidential bid. Klobuchar’s speech, for its mention of “subtweets” — a term for veiled criticism on social media — was itself a veiled criticism of Trump, clear to those who were listening for it. At the same time, the senator’s speech was an amplification of her brand of pragmatic politics, which figures to be an emphatic part of any bid she makes for higher office — and possibly an impediment to her winning support in the party’s progressive base.

Klobuchar has remained predictably coy about any ambitions — rumored for years — beyond serving as Minnesota’s senior U.S. Senator.
MinnPost photo by Bill Kelley
Klobuchar has remained predictably coy about any ambitions — rumored for years — beyond serving as Minnesota’s senior U.S. Senator.
More than anything Klobuchar actually said, though, her strong performance on Tuesday night was the main thing stoking more 2020 speculation. She defeated Newberger, a state representative who failed to raise the money and support necessary to really compete, by 24 points, earning over 60 percent of the vote. That margin of victory was almost exactly the same as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, whose home state of Massachusetts leans much more to the left than Minnesota.

Klobuchar ran up the score in the metro-area counties, but she also had formidable margins in hotbeds of Trump support: in Beltrami County, a northern Minnesota county that Trump carried by 10 points, Klobuchar defeated Newberger by 12. She eked out a victory in western Minnesota’s Wilkin County, which went for Trump by almost 40 points in 2016. (There were some signs of post-Trump partisan hardening in rural Minnesota, though: in her 2012 reelection bid, Klobuchar carried Wilkin by 25 points. That year, she won all but two of Minnesota’s 87 counties.)

Some in the media, who had already been buzzing about Klobuchar as a dark horse candidate, went all-in after her decisive win. Columns began appearing, laying out the “case for Klobuchar.” In the Philadelphia Inquirer, for example, columnist Will Bunch wrote that “Klobuchar feels like the fulfillment of what many of us have been saying since November 9, 2016 — that the Democrat who can beat Trump in 2020 was out there hiding in plain sight amid the baggage-carrying, way-too-familiar front runners.”

CNN’s Chris Cillizza and Harry Enten, who maintain a “power rankings” list of possible presidential candidates, ranked Klobuchar as the number four Democrat, only trailing Warren, former vice president Joe Biden, and California Sen. Kamala Harris.

“Democrats are desperate to win back the Midwest,” they wrote. “If they are, then doesn’t it make sense to nominate someone who just won reelection to the Senate from a key Midwestern state by 24 points. It was by far the biggest win for any Democratic Midwestern senator. We’re reminded of another Midwestern senator who won his last election before running for president by a wide margin.”

Iowa trips and Colbert hits

Before CNN was comparing her favorably to Barack Obama, Klobuchar was doing things that invited 2020 speculation.

The weekend before the election, for example, Klobuchar was in Iowa, campaigning on behalf of a Democratic congressional candidate, Cindy Axne, in the suburbs of Des Moines. According to the web site Iowa Starting Line, which tracks visits of political notables to the Hawkeye State, it was the third time in the last two years that Klobuchar has popped down to the state that hosts the first-in-the-nation presidential caucus. (Last spring, she headlined a fundraising dinner for Democrats in Polk County, the state’s most populous.)

A pre-election visit to Iowa is, typically, about as conspicuous as it gets for an ambitious politician — a blatant giveaway they’re seriously considering a White House bid. While Klobuchar’s visit certainly raised eyebrows, the senator is better-positioned to credibly make a low-key visit to Iowa than almost anyone else, according to Steffen Schmidt, a professor at Iowa State University who has been following the caucuses since the 1970s.

When people like Warren or Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey visit, Schmidt says, “we know it’s not because the weather is nice.” (That may explain why contenders like Booker and Harris have only gone to Iowa once each this year.) “That’s not the case with [Klobuchar],” he said, noting that she has been quietly visiting for years. “When she comes to Iowa, it is not to run for president. It may be she has that in the back of her mind, but it never surfaces. That’s a big advantage.”

“She’s really well known. We used to say the candidates who did well sometimes were ones who were neighbors,” he said. “While nationally, she’s probably not that well-known, she is really well-known among the people who count, for the caucuses, at least. They know who she is.”

In the past few months, many more people — in Iowa and elsewhere — have come to know who Klobuchar is. That’s thanks to her role in the contentious hearings in September investigating the allegations of sexual assault levied against Brett Kavanaugh, then a nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Unlike some hopefuls such as Booker, who was accused by Republicans of grandstanding during the Kavanaugh confirmation, Klobuchar’s big moment came up more organically, when she asked Kavanaugh if he had ever blacked out while drinking — a key line of questioning for Democrats concerned with the credibility of his testimony — and the judge responded by asking, “I don’t know, have you?”

The senator kept the focus on the question, and her toned-down handling of the situation won her widespread acclaim. “Her name recognition went way up with the Kavanaugh hearings,” Schmidt says. “That was a huge moment, that gave her massive national visibility and respect from a lot of people, Democrats and probably also independents, too.”

“The moment made Klobuchar a star, if not yet a superstar,” the Inquirer’s Bunch wrote.

Since then, Klobuchar has been appearing more often on cable news and nightly talk shows. On the eve of the election, she was on Stephen Colbert’s show in New York City, giving what she framed was Democrats’ “closing argument” in the midterms. She outlined what Democrats need to do to beat Trump in the Midwest: respect others, find common ground, and be willing to stand with people you don’t always agree with.

“The obvious question,” Colbert asked, “is, you’re running for re-election tomorrow. Why are you here?”

“First, I heard a rumor you have a pretty big audience,” Klobuchar said, “if you want remind everyone in the country to vote.”

Comments (28)

  1. Submitted by Elsa Mack on 11/15/2018 - 11:29 am.

    I like Amy Klobuchar. I think she’d be a great president. I would vote for her. But I do not think she shows the kind of charisma and passion that makes for a great presidential candidate.

    • Submitted by Brian Simon on 11/15/2018 - 12:09 pm.

      Exactly. I think I’ve voted for her every time for the Senate & Henn cty prosecutor before that. But she does not get me enthused about a promotion to POTUS. Other than, of course, not being the guy we got in that job now…

    • Submitted by Greg Smith on 11/15/2018 - 12:18 pm.

      As a conservative \ Republican i would vote for her over Trump. But , along with charisma, does she have the arrogance. Will bring a nice person work, see also Jimmy Carter

      • Submitted by MARINA PRATT on 11/17/2018 - 08:04 am.

        Carter was an engineer; Klobuchar was a prosecutor. She may be “Minnesota nice”, but I think her work history has prepared her better for the cutthroat world of Presidential politics. Besides, she’s been in Washington for 12 years, now, so she understands where the hazards are and how to avoid them. Carter was a neophyte when he arrived there from the Georgia Governor’s Mansion.
        In short, she’d be a GREAT candidate … and President!

    • Submitted by Betsy Larey on 11/15/2018 - 05:39 pm.

      I agree. And unfortunately you need some charisma to win. Joe Biden has it. But we need to stop letting old people run both parties. If you want the millennials to vote, nominate someone under 60

    • Submitted by Tory Koburn on 11/18/2018 - 10:33 pm.

      “…I do not think she shows the kind of charisma and passion that makes for a great presidential candidate.”

      This makes sense on some level, perhaps. I think it is important to look at the previous presidential candidates, and how their “charisma and passion” went in to how we decided whether they were presidential caliber.

      To put it bluntly: charisma is a subjective quality that doesn’t necessarily mean the most eloquent, or the most likable, or the most honest. Passion can be positive and negative – Trump seemed passionate about some things, which turned people on and off to him. Clinton didn’t seem to really care about anything, which might be why she lost.

      I think part of Klobuchar’s appeal might be that she doesn’t check all these boxes, which is part of why she wins handily in a purplish state. She’s not trying to appeal to people’s emotions like Trump, or people’s better nature, like Obama. She’s obviously not trying to check all the boxes, like Clinton.

      Klobuchar might just be a regular, decent person. Maybe, just maybe, that’s the kind of person best suited to beat Trump.

  2. Submitted by Scot Kindschi on 11/15/2018 - 11:49 am.

    Sorry, but I find her to be too much of a conservative. That most likely why she does well in red areas. Just like Collin Peterson.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 11/15/2018 - 01:01 pm.

      Calling Klobuchar a conservative and comparing her to Peterson is absurd.

    • Submitted by Tory Koburn on 11/18/2018 - 10:37 pm.

      She’s a centrist on many issues, certainly. In my younger days I would have been right with you – we need someone stronger on taking on the banks, breaking up the corporations, etc.

      Today, I’m willing to take a reasonable voice who seems to actually care about other people. Trump has lowered the bar that far, that simply keeping this country together for awhile longer would be a godsend.

  3. Submitted by James Hamilton on 11/15/2018 - 12:18 pm.

    No, she’s not. I’m talking only about how foolish that would be. She is a “safe” politician who focuses on non-controversial, feel food issues, and leads from the middle of the pack after learning which way it is moving. Her performance with Kavanaugh was embarrassing, not because of the questions she posed but because of her poor performance and failure to follow up. If she can be rattled that easily, even after years as a prosecutor, she needs to stay where she is.

    • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 11/15/2018 - 01:48 pm.

      Her poor performance was that she assumed he was guilty without a single piece of evidence. If she had been a prosecutor yet, she never would have even gone to court with such a lame accusation. She fully played that for the politics which makes her unfit for any office.

      • Submitted by ian wade on 11/15/2018 - 04:19 pm.

        Gee…by that standard, that would take out the majority of GOP politicians.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/16/2018 - 01:12 pm.

        “If she had been a prosecutor yet, she never would have even gone to court with such a lame accusation.”

        Probably not, but she wasn’t trying to get a conviction. She was investigating a presidential nominee before discharging her constitutional duty to advise and consent. The point was not to send him to jail but to decide if he was fit to serve on the Supreme Court. No one, in case you were wondering, is entitled to that kind of appointment.

        Although I understand why delving into a Trump appointee’s past would look like a criminal investigation.

      • Submitted by B. Dalager on 11/21/2018 - 01:02 pm.

        Testimony is evidence. Testimony is evidence. Testimony is evidence.

        Armchair commentators need to take an Evidence 101 class before speaking.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 11/16/2018 - 11:06 am.

      “…leads from the middle of the pack after learning which way it is moving.”

      Oh man, this might be the best description of Klobs I’ve heard.

  4. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 11/15/2018 - 12:40 pm.

    I, too, find Klobs to be too moderate for my tastes. And she doesn’t have the charisma that I think people typically look for. She seems like Hillary Clinton, without the baggage of 25 years of conservative mudslinging. Both are incrementalists, and incrementalists don’t accomplish much. Leaders need to dream big, and inspire followers to dream big. If you’re lucky, you end up with incremental change or maybe a little more.

    So my assessment of Klob’s White odds have been bearish, until recently. It’s easy to misapply the results of the last election to the next. (Recall how conservatives were shocked to see Romney go down in 2012.) But I think 2020 may be similar to 2008. In 2008, with Bush overseeing a global economic collapse, it was difficult to see any POTUS match-up under which a GOP candidate could win. In the aftermath of Don Trump, we may find that virtually any Dem will be in a “it’s all your’s just don’t blow it” situation.

    • Submitted by Brian Simon on 11/16/2018 - 08:02 am.

      If not her, who (not that I disagree)?

      Not so moderate, a little charisma, track record of accomplishment, limited conservative/national baggage…

      Hickenlooper 2020?

  5. Submitted by Dennis Litfin on 11/15/2018 - 02:56 pm.

    She would be a good candidate….just keep Clinton, Pelosi, Stabenau, et. al away from her

  6. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 11/15/2018 - 05:47 pm.

    ” in a deeply divided heartland state”

    Which is obvious when you look at all the statewide positions that the DFL had and kept this election season. Senator Klobuchar did manage to lose over 20 if not 30 counties against an opponent that nobody knows, even today. If a Democrat doesn’t win here they can’t win anywhere (see Walter Mondale).

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/16/2018 - 02:26 pm.

      “Senator Klobuchar did manage to lose over 20 if not 30 counties against an opponent that nobody knows, even today.”

      Which means she won 57, maybe 67, of the counties.

      Another way of looking at it is that she received over 60% of the total vote. Comparing counties is utterly meaningless, unless you are trying to say that Lake of the Woods County (1851 votes cast) is somehow equally indicative of her electoral popularity as Hennepin County (629,241 votes cast, or 24% of the total votes in the state).

      • Submitted by Tom Anderson on 11/16/2018 - 07:17 pm.

        Another way of looking at it is that 40% of the voters failed to vote for the most popular politician in the State, maybe ever, which could be important in states that are not solidly blue. And, as of today, I’d wager that less than 50% of the voters could give the full name of her opponent, which I think would be unlikely after a Presidential election.

  7. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 11/15/2018 - 06:02 pm.

    No Democrat has a bigger personality than Trump. Better to pick a decent person who can get bipartisan agreement, as that is the only way we will get good government. Progressives need to realize that being divided resulted in Trump’s ability to block all progress and go backwards on issues like the environment, poverty and bigotry. Cast votes that don’t just feel good, but do good. Amy is not your normal self promoting politician of which both parties have a ample supply. She has Carter’s idealism but not his naivety that people respond to cold logic, but to respect and feeling mutual benefit. When everyone is doing well, people are less likely to be offended by others’ “greener pastures” life.

  8. Submitted by Daniel Gardner on 11/16/2018 - 12:58 pm.

    Regarding appealing to young people voting . . . a candidate shouldn’t waste their time. 10% of ages 18-29 voted in the midterms. And this was one of the most important elections – midterm – in our country’s history. That’s terrible. Really. Terrible.

    • Submitted by Tory Koburn on 11/18/2018 - 10:47 pm.

      You are mistakenly applying the early vote counts which state that about 13% of voters are aged 18-29. Even rounding down, that does not mean that only 10% of people aged 18-29 voted.

      For a midterm, voting rates this year are at record highs, including young people.

  9. Submitted by Bruce Benidt Benidt on 11/18/2018 - 08:13 am.

    I’ve paid attention to Amy’s language as her years pile up in the senate. She still sounds like a human being, a regular person, most of the time. Her phrasing isn’t about process and procedures, she doesn’t use bureaucractic language, she doesn’t sound like she’s making pronouncements or posturing. I firmly believe that one of fhe reasons the monster in the White House won is that he sounded different from typical stiff politicians (Chuck Schumer for example) — he sounded like someone real. He’s not of course, he’s a grifter. We elected Jesse Ventura partly because he didn’t measure every phrase with a finger in the wind (Hillary) and he sounded like a guy we could understand and who could understand us. Amy still sounds like a real human being — and, unlike Trump, she sounds that way because she is. And she comes by it honestly. I worked with her father at the Star, and there is a real, compassionate human being. She does Jim proud.

    Run Amy Run. Save us from the kind of hucksters we just elected to the senate and governorship in Florida. And save us from the senior-citizen crowd of Democrats lined up at the Iowa border.

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