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The five moments that defined Amy Klobuchar’s Iowa debate performance

From Iran to fracking to “electability,” how Klobuchar attempted to set herself apart from the field.

REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Of the candidates still able to qualify for the debate stage, Sen. Amy Klobuchar has spent the most time in Iowa: according to the Des Moines Register, 165 events over a total of 61 days.

On Tuesday night, Klobuchar was there again. This time, in Des Moines, where she shared a nationally syndicated debate stage with five other candidates: Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Vice President Joe Biden, and billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer.

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Although Klobuchar is on the lower end of the polls, she’s resilient, consistently able to maintain a presence on the debate stage as the Democratic National Committee’s requirements have become progressively tougher.

In the latest poll from the Des Moines Register and CNN, the two organizations that co-hosted the debate, Klobuchar is polling at 6 percent, ahead of Steyer at 2 percent, but trailing Sanders at 20 percent, Warren at 17 percent, Buttigieg at 16 percent, and Biden at 15 percent.

Here are five key moments for Klobuchar from the seventh Democratic debate:

Klobuchar opposed the Iraq War

In one of the first questions of the debate, Klobuchar used a question about Buttigieg’s perceived lack of experience to push back against not just Buttigieg, but Biden as well.

“I have been very clear that I respect the mayor’s experience very much in the military. I just have different experience,” Klobuchar said. But instead of speaking to the Mayor’s experience, Klobuchar used her time to talk about an issue she dealt with in her twelve years in the Senate: the Iraq War, framing her opposition of the Iraq War against Biden’s long history of support for it (without mentioning him by name). 

“I wasn’t in the Senate for that vote, but I opposed that war from the very beginning. In my first campaign for Senate, I ran against a Republican who ran ads against me on it, but I stood my ground,” Klobuchar said. “When I got to the Senate, I pushed to bring our troops home.”

U.S.-Iran Relations

Several debate questions touched on the current U.S. relationship with Iran, and Klobuchar used her time to discuss the recent escalation: President Trump’s authorization to kill top Iranian official Qasem Soleimani with a tactical airstrike. 

“Donald Trump is taking us pell-mell toward another war,” Klobuchar said, calling attention to four Republican senators who said they will vote with Senate Democrats to halt war with Iran. 

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Klobuchar said she would restart negotiations on the Iran Nuclear Deal that was negotiated under President Barack Obama in 2015, but exited under Trump in 2018. After the U.S. strike that killed Soleimani, Iran said it would exit the deal and again attempt to create nuclear weapons.

“My issue is that, because of the actions of Donald Trump, we are in a situation where they are now starting — Iran is starting to enrich uranium again in violation of the original agreement,” Klobuchar said. “So what I would do is negotiate.”

Fracking

When it comes to fracking, the process of injecting pressurized liquid into the ground in order to extract oil or gas, Klobuchar was asked an explicit question about her record:

“Some of your competitors on this stage have called for an all-out ban on fracking,” CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Klobuchar. “You haven’t. Why not?”

Klobuchar said she does not oppose fracking because she sees “natural gas as a transition fuel. It’s a transition fuel to where we get to carbon neutral.”

The candidates on the stage that would ban fracking: Sanders, Steyer, and Warren. Fracking, long condemned by most environmental advocates, can contaminate groundwater and sometimes induce earthquakes.

Dealing with trade

Sanders, who has long been an advocate for organized labor, opposes the US-Mexico Trade Agreement (USMCA). His reasoning during the debate? “We could do much better than a Trump-led trade deal,” he said. “This deal — and I think the proponents of it acknowledge — will result in the continuation of the loss of hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs as a result of outsourcing.”

Labor spent a large portion of the year opposing the USMCA until they were able to win some modest changes, which would help unions in Mexico.

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Klobuchar did not address Sanders directly, but said the deal was a net positive. Most agricultural interests around the country, including in Minnesota, have long been in favor of the trade deal, including prior to labor’s negotiated changes. 

Klobuchar told the story of when she went to Crawfordsville, Iowa and talked to a worker from a plant that had shut down during the Trump administration. Klobuchar placed the blame on the president’s trade policy and ethanol waivers, waivers provided to oil companies that allow them to use less ethanol in gasoline, and in turn, decrease demand for refined ethanol.

“That worker brought out a coat rack of uniforms and he said, these are my friends, they don’t work anymore. And their names were embroidered on those uniforms, Derek, Mark, Salvador. And that guy started to cry,” Klobuchar said. “These are real people hurt by Donald Trump’s trade war.”

Klobuchar said that the USMCA, which has already passed the House and is soon almost-certainly going to pass in the Senate, was a step in the right direction to countering China’s economic influence. She also name-dropped AFL-CIO union leader Richard Trumka and Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, a consistent advocate of labor in the Senate who supported the USMCA.

False notions of ‘electability’

A lingering question during the debate was whether or not Sanders and Warren would address a conversation they had in 2018, where Sanders reportedly said that a woman could not win an election against Trump. Sanders spent a significant amount of time denying that he said those words, while Warren maintained that her recollection of events was true.

In speaking to the notion of “electability,” Warren set up Klobuchar for a response:

“The only people on this stage who have won every single election that they’ve been in are the women,” Warren said. “Amy and me.”

“So true,” Klobuchar said.

Klobuchar was asked a similar question: What does she say to people who say a woman can’t win the election?

“People have said it,” Klobuchar said. “That’s why I’ve addressed it from this stage. I point out that you don’t have to be the tallest person in the room. James Madison was 5’4″. You don’t have to be the skinniest person in the room. You don’t have to be the loudest person. You have to be competent.”

Klobuchar then pivoted to her own record.

“When you look at what I have done, I have won every race, every place, every time. I have won in the reddest of districts. I have won in the suburban areas, in the rural areas,” Klobuchar said. “I have brought people with me.”