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What appeal does ‘Heartland Amy’ have for voters in California?

MinnPost spoke to some of Klobuchar’s Golden State supporters.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar
Sen. Amy Klobuchar speaking at the UnidosUS Annual Conference, in San Diego, California, on August 5.
REUTERS/Mike Blake

Sen. Amy Klobuchar calls herself “Heartland Amy.” Running for president from the Midwest, she’s built up most of her operation between Iowa and Minneapolis, only a few hours’ drive from Des Moines. And Iowa, as it is for the rest of the presidential hopefuls, is also where she spends most of her time on the trail.

But Klobuchar is running in a national primary. To win, she’ll need to convince not just voters in the Midwest, but on both coasts. So, how does her language play with voters outside of Iowa in places like California, the state with the largest number of delegates up for grabs at the Democratic convention?

In June, a Los Angeles Times poll found that overall, only 1 percent of California voters said that Klobuchar was their first choice candidate and 1 percent of voters said she was their second choice candidate. Leading the poll with 22, 18 and 17 percent were former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders respectively. The poll also found that fewer than half of voters in California had an opinion of Klobuchar.

A recent poll of 528 California primary voters had support for Klobuchar at 0 percent.

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Despite her low name recognition and polling in the state, after Minnesota and New York, the third largest source of revenue for Klobuchar’s campaign is California, with close to $800,000 itemized contributions raised in the first two quarters. Klobuchar’s donors and supporters MinnPost talked to identified the Minnesota senator as a moderate presence in the race, someone that fits their standards.

Bradley J. Mancuso, a Sacramento-based attorney who runs the “Amy For America (Unofficial)” Facebook page, said he feels “caught in the middle between the ever-increasing extremism of each party.”

“I have identified Sen. Klobuchar as one of the more moderate candidates in the race right now and, add in her experience and record, believe she is the candidate that most closely represents what I believe is needed in this next election.”

Kate Ringness, a Bay Area resident who works with regional governments to create jobs in the clean energy sector, said the candidate is one of several who appeal to her. Ringness, who donated to Klobuchar’s campaign, believes that Klobuchar is a strong candidate for winning back states that Donald Trump won in 2016. And she also believes Klobuchar will tackle the climate crisis in a way that she sees as realistic: incrementally.

“You can’t change it overnight. And I think Amy gets that, and is still committed to the overall goal, but with a healthy dose of realism,” Ringness said.

Bernie Burke, an investment adviser in the Bay Area who has also donated to Klobuchar, said he thinks it’s important to finally elect a woman president. And for his politics, Klobuchar fits the bill.

“Bernie [Sanders is] way to the left; he’s not someone I’d ever vote for, he’s not a Democrat,” he said. “Warren has got some good ideas, a little strident, she’s getting better, I think.”

Burke also pointed out that Klobuchar may have appeal in the redder and more purple parts of California. “California you have to remember, you have the Sacramento Valley and the San Joaquin Valley,” he said.

Burke said he is also a supporter of expansive proposals like Medicare for All, and he hopes to see Klobuchar lean a bit more in to explain her health care platform.

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Several of the donors MinnPost spoke to are not solely backing Klobuchar and are still considering their options. Most conceded that they will vote for whoever the Democratic nominee is. Or as Burke, the investment adviser, put it: “Any of the candidates in the next debate will probably be decent presidents. We’ve got a lunatic running the country.”

California campaignin’

As of now, only a handful of frontrunners have made the delegate-rich state a priority: home state Sen. Kamala Harris, who has 10 staffers in the state split between Los Angeles and San Francisco as of Thursday; Sanders, who has 11 staffers; and Joe Biden, who has five. So far, Klobuchar has none. But representatives from the campaign said they plan to hire California staff in the coming months.

Klobuchar has visited the Golden State several times this year, hosting fundraisers in the Bay Area, speaking at the California Democratic Party, and hosting campaign events in Santa Monica and San Francisco.

Klobuchar has another disadvantage: Harris has already locked down the endorsement of a substantial number of high-level elected officials in the state.

Ringness said that Klobuchar is a strong candidate. But in what she called “a tough love comment,” she hopes to see more of the candidate she met in person on the debate stage. “It’s that interrupting other people on the debate stage, that has to happen, she said. “She didn’t lean in enough in the first debate.”

As for whether Klobuchar can win, Ringness said she thinks Klobuchar does have a strong appeal in the Midwest. But she still has a way to go.

“I think she will appeal to the Rust Belt states,” said Ringness. “But she needs to up her game if she wants to appeal to more folks on the coast.”