Amy Klobuchar got her shot.
Not her shot at becoming president of the United States — that will be determined in a year or so in the Democratic primaries and caucuses.
Instead, her day-old campaign got the image it was hoping for: their candidate and her supporters on the banks of the Mississippi River, the Minneapolis skyline in the background, somewhere, while a steady snowfall filled the foreground, not to mention the hair of the speakers.
Bold North in a single frame. Community huddled together for strength and warmth. References to hardy Minnesotans too numerous to count.
It was Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan who first tied the scene with the theme, though. “We are showcasing what we do well in Minnesota,” Flanagan said from the Boom Island stage in the lead up to Klobuchar’s speech. “We are not intimidated by a little snow. And we are not intimidated by Donald Trump.”
“Welcome to Boom Island,” Klobuchar began when she got onstage. “Where are we? We don’t let a little cold stop us, do we? Like are you guys even cold?”
Many were, but nearly everyone shouted, “No.”
The announcement was an announcement only in a political sense. National candidates don’t reserve a scenic park, hire security, assemble tents and warming huts, book talent and brew a lot of hot chocolate to say they thought about it but decided against it. And they don’t invite a national press corps to a city in the midst of a run of winter weather to show them the scenery.
So when she got to the key line Sunday, about halfway into her prepared remarks, none who crowded the ground before the stage was surprised, even if they cheered as though they were.
“So today, on an island in the middle of the mighty Mississippi, in our nation’s heartland, at a time when we must heal the heart of our democracy and renew our commitment to the common good, I stand before you as the granddaughter of an iron ore miner, the daughter of a teacher and a newspaperman, the first woman elected to the United States Senate from the State of Minnesota, to announce my candidacy for President of the United States,” Klobuchar said.
From Facebook to Whitman
She covered a lot of ground in a 23-minute speech: from her being the granddaughter of immigrants to region’s response the I-35W collapse; from the need to embrace the digital economy to the need to protect people from the privacy abuses of the same; from addressing climate change to amending the U.S. Constitution to reverse the Citizens United supreme court ruling.
And she condemned attempts to reject immigrants, such as a Somali family dining out at a restaurant who were told to “go home.” “The little girl looks up at her mom and says ‘Mom, I don’t want to go home. You said we could eat out tonight. I don’t want to eat dinner at home,’” Klobuchar said. “Think of the innocence of that little girl. She didn’t even know what he was talking about. Because she only knows one home. And that home is our state. She only knows one home, and that home, that home is the United States of America.”
She even quoted Walt Whitman: “I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear.”
“For Whitman, those were the songs of the mechanics, the carpenters, the masons and the shoemakers,” she said. “And those carols are still being sung today. They are now also the songs of our sisters and brothers, a chorus of different faiths, races, creeds and ways of life.”
“E pluribus unum. Out of many, one. It is more than a motto. It is the North Star of our democracy. It is the North Star of this effort.”
While President Donald Trump was mentioned by some of the elected officials who spoke in the lead up to Klobuchar’s remarks (Gov. Tim Walz drew the loudest laughs when he said, “There are more people here than on the National Mall for that inauguration”), Klobuchar didn’t use the president’s name (even if he was clearly paying attention to her).
She did, however, make references not lost on her snow-speckled audience. “We need to stand strong — and consistently — with our allies,” she said. “We need to be clear in our purpose. We must respect our front line troops, diplomats and intelligence officers who are out there every day risking their lives for us. They deserve better than foreign policy by Tweet.”
After telling of how the state responded to the I-35W collapse, Klobuchar spoke of the community acting together. “But that sense of community is fracturing across our nation right now, worn down by the petty and vicious nature of our politics,” she said. “We are all tired of the shutdowns and the showdowns, the gridlock and the grandstanding. Today we say enough is enough.”
‘I have grit’
In addition to the hoped-for optics of snow and winter and hearty souls who barely notice, the setting let her use the Mississippi River — vaguely visible through the snowfall — as a metaphor.
“The Mississippi River… all our rivers connect us… to one another. To our shared story,” she said. “For that is how this country was founded, with patriots who saw more that united them than divided them. And that is how this city — the Mill City — and our country prospered, right along this river and our nation’s railways and roads, grounded in the common belief that prosperity shared leads to better lives for all. And this is how we became the world’s beacon of democracy, one in which everyone matters.”
And she ended with this: “I’m asking you to join us on this campaign. It’s a homegrown one. I don’t have a political machine. I don’t come from money. But what I do have is this: I have grit. I have family. I have friends. I have neighbors.
“Let us cross the river of our divides and walk across our sturdy bridge to higher ground. As one faith leader reminded me this week, to pursue the good, we must believe that good will prevail. I do believe it and so do you.”
Joining a crowded field
It might be expected that when a favorite daughter announces for president, the elected officials from her party would rally to her, but the 2020 presidential campaign is being run in the midst of a debate among Democrats as to how best to defeat Trump. Just Saturday, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts announced her own presidential run, a bid that comes from the party’s left flank.
Klobuchar is not of that wing, and she will most likely appeal to a somewhat more-moderate Democratic electorate. Those who stood with her Sunday were mostly from a similar place: Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, Duluth Mayor Emily Larson, Moorhead Mayor Johnathan Judd, U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, U.S. Reps. Angie Craig, Dean Phillips, Walz and Lieutenant Gov. Peggy Flanagan.
Though she didn’t make a direct reference, Larson seemed to be calling out Trump when she said: “Some politicians, some pundits, they look at parts of our beautiful country, our Midwest area and they put us down, saying the best is behind us. They look at our proud history and they use it to divide us.
“Amy doesn’t see us struggling and lose interest. She sees potential and she gets to work,” Larson said. “Amy understands that the Midwest is the beating heart of America.”
Response to stories about mistreatment of staff
During her announcement, Klobuchar made no reference to recent stories about her mistreatment of her Senate staff, including a HuffPost story that said three different potential campaign managers opted out after hearing stories from former staffers.
In a media scrum after the speech, she did however repeat the response she has given previously when asked about turnover in her office: that she is tough and demanding and will have the same standards for herself. “Yes, I can be tough. And yes I can push people,” she said. “I know that. But in the end there are so many great stories of our staff who have been with me for years who have gone on to do incredible things. I have high expectations for the people who work for me but I have high expectations for this country.”
After being asked whether she thought the stories had been planted by opponents, Klobuchar demurred. “I don’t want to go into that at all,” she said. “I believe in freedom of the press. People should be able to listen to what they want. What I really want to focus on is an optimistic agenda for this country.”
She said if Democratic candidates spend their time going after each other, “we are never going to take this country where we need to go.”