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With her focus on mostly white Iowa, is Amy Klobuchar doing enough to reach black voters?

Former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders
REUTERS/Randall Hill
Former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders, among other presidential candidates, are shown walking arm-in-arm with local African-American leaders during the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade in Columbia, South Carolina, on January 20.

Who is Amy Klobuchar?

According to a recent national poll of black voters conducted by The Washington Post and Ipsos, 62 percent of black voters either have no opinion of her or have no idea.

When it comes to support, Klobuchar doesn’t even register in the poll. She is behind Joe Biden, who has 48 percent support; Sen. Bernie Sanders, at 20 percent (the bulk of whom are 18-34); and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, at 9 percent. Even former mayor Pete Buttigieg, who has been criticized for a lack of black voter support, has 2 percent.

The poll speaks to a central problem for Klobuchar as she prepares for the Iowa Caucus: She has spent the majority of the campaign cycle focusing on Iowa, a primarily white state. But when it comes to the third-in-the-nation primary in South Carolina, the demographic picture looks very different. So how does Klobuchar intend to connect with black voters?

King Day at the Dome

Last week, only two Democratic candidates did not initially schedule time to attend the annual “King Day at the Dome” celebration in Columbia, S.C., on Martin Luther King Jr. Day: Former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg and Klobuchar.

“What they’re doing is really disrespectful to norms. They wouldn’t miss … what is it? … the Iowa Steak Fry,” Bakari Sellers, a former South Carolina state representative, told Bloomberg News.

Buttigieg did not budge. But Klobuchar’s campaign eventually changed its plans, and she showed up, immediately jetting off to The Brown & Black Democratic Presidential Forum hosted by Vice News in Iowa afterwards.

Both candidates are polling low in South Carolina, including with black voters. In the last few South Carolina polls, Klobuchar is not polling at all with black voters: She remains at 0 percent.

Klobuchar has spent the majority of campaign cycle so far focused on Iowa, a state that, according to the latest census data, is 90 percent white and around 4 percent black. 2016 exit polls place Democratic caucus voters at about the same percentage. There, she has at least 60 staffers on the ground.

South Carolina is noticeably different: 68 percent white and 27 percent black. And in 2016, data from the South Carolina Election Commission places Democratic primary voters at 19 percent white and 33 percent non-white (the commission does not release more specific demographic information).

While Klobuchar’s campaign would not specify how many staffers she has in South Carolina, the campaign does have a state director: Angela Kouters, a former chief of staff to Buttigieg when he was mayor of South Bend and a chief of staff to several members of Congress.

Color Of Change

Color Of Change a large racial justice organization founded in the wake of Hurricane Katrina to give black voters a voice. The group creates online media campaigns, petitions, lobbies, and give money to candidates in order to build power for black communities.

They also have a podcast: Voting While Black. Kamala Harris, the other prosecutor who was in the race, also was on the podcast last year. Four of the candidates on the last debate stage have also been on. Only two candidates on the debate stage have not: Former Vice President Joe Biden and Klobuchar.

Rashad Robinson, Color of Change’s president, said that they have sent Klobuchar’s campaign at least 23 emails and offered up multiple meeting times. Up until now, the campaign has been unable to meet with her directly. He pointed to Klobuchar’s unwillingness to meet with the group as being indicative of who the candidate really is.

“The fact that she won’t even meet with us, that the only person we can talk to is an African-American outreach director, tells us a lot about how she thinks about governing and how important she sees black people,” said Robinson.

“And that should worry anyone who is supporting Amy Klobuchar.”

Klobuchar has made at least one visit to Black Leaders Organizing Communities, an organization in Milwaukee that coordinates political action within the black community.

‘It’s not fair and it’s not right’

In a statement provided to MinnPost, Klobuchar’s campaign disputed the idea that she is having trouble connecting with black voters.

“Even as a candidate who is not as well known as many of her opponents, it has become clear that as Senator Klobuchar visits more places and meets more people, her support grows — including with people of color. She has the support of Rep. Ruth Ann Gaines, the first African American legislator in Iowa to endorse a presidential candidate, and as our campaign continues to ramp up in states like South Carolina, Nevada and beyond, we expect our support to grow there, too.”

At a recent donor event, Klobuchar seemed to reframe the question of the importance of black support: To her, the problem for a Democratic potential candidate is not whether black voters will turn out, but that the party needs to be expanded with white independents and moderate Republicans.

“African American women have turned out every single time for Democratic candidates. They need some friends,” she said. “They need some support. And so when I look at this, I look at independents, and I look at moderate Republicans to add to our numbers.”

At the Vice Forum earlier this month, Klobuchar was asked by moderators if she is the “white moderate” Dr. King was talking about in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, who King said was “more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice” and a greater “stumbling block” to freedom than a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

Klobuchar responded, “I don’t pretend to know what it’s like to walk into a maternity room, pregnant, and say that your hands are swollen, and then walk out there without your baby because no one’s listened. Or what it’s like to be in a store, and have [store security] follow behind you. …  I don’t pretend to live that life. But what I do know is that it’s not fair and it’s not right.”

But for Color Of Change’s Robinson, Klobuchar’s actions on the campaign trail are more important.

“After Iowa and after New Hampshire, as you head to South Carolina and on Super Tuesday, the question will not be are you just meeting people,” Robinson said, “but have you built a relationship with them?”

Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 01/27/2020 - 11:22 am.

    Black voters, like all democrat-leaning voters, should ask themselves if they can bear four more years of Trump. If the answer is “no,” then they should act accordingly. Get registered, get active, and show up on election day.

    If the nominee is not your first choice, so what?

    What is the alternative?

    • Submitted by Isog Sargent on 01/30/2020 - 10:10 pm.

      Although that’s a good point, Black voters have heard that for decades. And Klobuchar is involved, at least peripherally, in what the AP has uncovered in the investigation into the murder of Tyesha Edwards. According to the AP, police fabricated evidence and failed to gather exculpatory evidence in their investigation. We are going to need an independent investigation into this issue and if Amy wants to be in this race we’re going to need it very soon.

  2. Submitted by Vonnie Phillips on 01/27/2020 - 11:33 am.

    Amy Klobuchar goes where the wind is blowing, and it doesn’t include seriously tackling issues in the African American community, locally or statewide. The fact remains, she is part of the phony “Minnesota Nice”, the social economic data as it pertains to African Americans in the State of Minnesota speaks for itself, of all the major metropolitan areas in the US, the Twin Cities have the worse, the absolute worse when measuring economic outcomes for African Americans. The Twin Cities, in my opinion, is the US Capitol or ground zero for the “liberal elites”, conservative white southerners in the Congress have a better legislative record for minorities in their states than our Congressional delegation, pathetic.

  3. Submitted by john herbert on 01/27/2020 - 01:54 pm.

    Interesting article Gabe, thank you. In the bigger picture does it really matter that Amy or the other Dems register with white voters in Iowa or black voters in South Carolina when both of those states will most likely be carried by Mr. Trump by a significant margin? For any Dem to win in 2020 they need to reach out to and register with black voters near Milwaukee, Philly and Detroit in Obama fashion plus reach “enough” Reagan/Trump “Democrat” white voters in the suburbs of those cities. It beggars belief to me that the Dems are still so beholden to a few voters in Iowa and New Hampshire that they risk losing an election by selecting the wrong candidate.

  4. Submitted by Claire Dempsey on 01/27/2020 - 02:24 pm.

    In order to have a strong presence right now in South Carolina you have to have LOTS of money in the coffers. It is very expensive to have staff in Iowa, NH, Nevada AND South Carolina. There is only so much time and money to spread around. I would give Amy credit for being very strategic with what she has. If she is elected, I have confidence that she will indeed build relationships in the red South. Amy will take a very different tactic from our current President who only engages with his current supporters in his stronghold areas.

  5. Submitted by Peter Stark on 01/27/2020 - 03:50 pm.

    If she wants to appeal to black voters she needs to change her platform.

  6. Submitted by Howard Miller on 01/27/2020 - 05:16 pm.

    If Amy does not make a strong showing in Iowa,
    her campaign may follow Tim Pawlenty’s
    presidential ambitions into the Iowa crapper.

    Win Iowa, New Hampshire. Then SC ….

  7. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 01/27/2020 - 09:25 pm.

    After Iowa, it’s all over for Senator Amy. I do ask that some MinnPost writer ask the Senator where she needs to finish in Iowa to keep going. 3rd?, 4th?, 5th? Get a solid answer. After spending virtually all of her time and money in Iowa she needs to break into the top tier (top three).

    By the way, she won’t give a definitive answer, she’s Senator Amy.

    • Submitted by Aaron Albertson on 01/31/2020 - 11:49 pm.

      I think she needs to win Iowa to have any shot at the nomination. NH’s going to Bernie, and her whole argument is that she can do well with white people. If she loses two 90%+ white states in a row, then her argument goes up in flames.

  8. Submitted by Paul Yochim on 01/28/2020 - 03:47 pm.

    Living in predominately white Minnesota she did not have a need to appeal to the African American community. Now that she is seeking votes outside of her state it is a different story. Personally I don’t think she will make it out of Iowa.

  9. Submitted by Mike Merker on 01/29/2020 - 10:44 am.

    She has less then 0% chance of becoming president and was always hoping to be appointed the AG or the supreme court should a democrat win the presidency!
    She has spent millions in her run and the vast majority of Americans are statistically tied with her using the +/- variation in the polling!

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