The time may come when all Democrats need to unite behind a single presidential candidate, Jackie Stevenson was saying Monday, but that time hasn’t come.
“The race isn’t over,” said Stevenson, a miffed Minnesota superdelegate, a feminist and a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton. “There is no need to rush.”
She believes Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar, also a Minnesota superdelegate, rushed when she announced Sunday night that she was throwing her support to Barack Obama. And Stevenson is not alone in her views among Minnesota’s women political leaders.
Stevenson said she’d had several conversations in recent weeks with Klobuchar, who along with Nancy Larson and Collin Peterson, had been the only remaining Minnesota superdelegates not committed to a presidential candidate..
“I’d tell Amy, ‘Just keep holding off,’ ” Stevenson said. “She’d say, ‘I understand.’ ”
Then came Klobuchar’s announcement.
Stevenson was surprised and irked.
“I knew she was waffling, and I knew she was leaning,” said Stevenson. “Now, I’m just very disappointed. She didn’t have to do anything. She could have let this play out. I’m very disappointed by her choice, and I’m very disappointed she didn’t call. She could have let one of us (the state’s three Clinton superdelegates) know what she was going to do, and we could have contacted each other. She didn’t even do that.”
Women political pioneers in state share disappointment
Stevenson said she’s not alone in feeling let down by Klobuchar. Many who were pioneers in pushing women forward in Minnesota politics share her disappointment.
“We worked hard to see that Amy became Minnesota’s first woman senator,” Stevenson said.
(Actually, in January 1978, Muriel Humphrey became the state’s first female senator when she was appointed to fill Hubert Humphrey’s seat following his death. She did not run in a special election that November, when Republican David Durenberger easily defeated Bob Short. Klobuchar is Minnesota’s first elected female senator.)
“I was so happy to see Amy in the race,” said Stevenson. “I was thrilled when she won. But it doesn’t seem like we can stick together. There’s this attitude, ‘Support me, but I may not support somebody else.’ ”
Did Klobuchar have a gender obligation to at least stay neutral a while longer in this race? Klobuchar treads around the question carefully.
“I knew where I was heading for some time,” Klobuchar said in a conversation Monday afternoon. “I do not see this as a woman’s issue. I ran to bring change to Washington, not to be a woman senator. I’m proud to be a woman in the Senate, but that does not define who I am or what I stand for.”
Klobuchar, who quickly has gained a reputation of seeking safe middle ground, is trying to offend no one with her endorsement. She said she understands the sentiments of women who have sacrificed to see that there are more women in American politics.
“There was a group of women in business who supported me,” said Klobuchar. “They called themselves ‘Amy’s Angels,’ and they were central to my campaign. I continue to help women across the country. I care about that movement. But my focus is on the middle class.”
She believes Obama speaks to those middle-class issues powerfully. But again, she appears to want to have it both ways. One breath after saying she is supporting Obama, she says she hopes Clinton stays in the race until the last primary vote is counted.
“That makes no sense,” said Stevenson.
Klobuchar defends timing, notes respect for both candidates
But it seems to make sense to Klobuchar.
“I have tremendous respect for both candidates,” she said. “I delayed out of respect for both.”
So why didn’t she hold out longer? Does she believe the Obama nomination is inevitable? Was there pressure coming from somewhere?
Klobuchar said she did not feel particular pressure. She said that all along she’d made it clear that she’d announce her decision before summer.
Despite Klobuchar’s demurral, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, an early Obama supporter, said he believes Klobuchar felt heavy pressure, particularly from women’s organizations.
“She was in a very complicated position,” Rybak said. “Many of the people who had worked hard to make her Minnesota’s first woman senator wanted to see the first woman president. I want to see that, too, but he (Obama) is someone like we’ve never seen before. I think Amy sees that, too. But out of respect for the position she was in, I tried not to speak to her much (about presidential politics). I know her well enough to know that Amy was putting enough pressure on herself. She didn’t need me to add any.”
Klobuchar becomes the second female senator to support Obama. Missouri’s Claire McCaskill, who, in 2006, became Missouri’s first woman senator, was the first.
Kahn sees generational split among women
State Rep. Phyllis Kahn, a DFLer from Minneapolis, is a pioneer for women in a number of fields. A Clinton supporter, she thinks that perhaps younger women, such as Klobuchar, don’t understand how hard it was for women to break down barriers.
Kahn, for example, was among the first women ever to get into Yale’s biophysics graduate program.
“One professor wrote that I was not fit for grad school — I should be a housewife,” she said. “The appalling thing was that if he’d have come to my home, he would have seen I was not then — and am not now — fit to be a housewife.”
She went on to get a Ph.D. in biophysics and then became part of the early wave of women elected to the Minnesota Legislature.
“Maybe that only shows how successful we were,” she said. “Many women are pretty oblivious to what we went through.”
Like Stevenson, Kahn believes Clinton has received much tougher media treatment than Obama. Like Stevenson, she’s disappointed that Klobuchar didn’t at least delay her announcement. Like Stevenson, she wants Clinton to keep on fighting.
“I agree with what (former state senator) Ember Reichgott Junge was saying the other night on ‘Almanac,’ ” Kahn said. “She said, ‘For a woman of my age, it’s important that she stay in and fight to the very end.”’
The Clinton supporters are not naïve. They know their candidate is in trouble, and nothing would seem to signify that more than Klobuchar’s decision.
Surely, if somebody as aware of political safety as Klobuchar is jumping on the Obama bandwagon, there must be a belief among insiders that he is unstoppable, some would argue.
Rick Stafford, a member of the Democratic National Committee, a superdelegate and a leader of the Clinton for President movement in Minnesota, says that at some point before the convention it will be important for the party to unite around a candidate. He knows the odds against Clinton are growing.
“But let’s not diminish the primaries that are still out there,” he said. “There’s no need to do that. I’m waiting to see what happens in Pennsylvania and Indiana. There’ll be time after that to bring everyone together.”
He has nothing to say about Klobuchar’s decision.
But Stevenson has a lot to say.
“A lot of us waited a long time for this (a woman to be elected president),” said Stevenson. “I don’t think I’ll live to see it again. At the least, I wish she would have called.”
Said Klobuchar, “I will call her in the next couple of days. I’ll tell her there are two ways of looking at this: I am so impressed by the excitement he has created in Minnesota and about all the new people he’s bringing into the party, or you can look at it as if I’ve betrayed women for the rest of history.”
Doug Grow, a former metro columnist for the Star Tribune, writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.