- Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar is running for president as measured, pragmatic moderate with a hard work ethic, a no-nonsense approach, and a “Minnesota nice” demeanour.
- She’s generated enthusiasm and support from Democrats and even some conservatives, who believe her strength among Midwestern voters could make her a formidable general election opponent for President Donald Trump.
- She’ll face several hurdles on her way to the 2020 Democratic nomination, which could include not having sufficiently progressive policy views and not yet having a clear strategy to win over non-white voters.
- Here are some of the reasons Klobuchar could lose.
Since announcing her presidential campaign in mid-February, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar has generated enthusiastic support from many Democrats – and even some conservatives – who see her as a solid option to take on President Donald Trump in 2020.
The three-term senator and former prosecutor is by all accounts a liberal, but further towards the ideological center of the Democratic Party than many other 2020 candidates. She also has a long history of working with Republicans on legislation.
Klobuchar is counting on her reputation as a measured, pragmatic moderate with a hard work ethic, a no-nonsense approach, and a “Minnesota nice” demeanour to dominate particularly among Midwestern voters – and pose a stark contrast to Trump.
One of the most memorable moments from her time in the Senate was keeping her cool and staying on topic when, after she asked Justice Brett Kavanaugh if he had blacked out from drinking, he turned the question back on her, inquiring, “have you, senator?”
Instead of lashing out at Kavanaugh, Klobuchar calmly pressed him again to answer the question and explained that, having grown up with an alcoholic father, she had never blacked out. That exchange went viral on the internet, was parodied by Saturday Night Live, and helped put Klobuchar in the conversation for 2020.
Here are some obstacles she might run into in her quest for the nomination:
Her policy stances might not be progressive enough for the Democratic primary electorate.
At a February CNN town hall, Klobuchar declined to support provide free four-year college tuition and called programs like Medicare For All and the Green New Deal – which most other 2020 Democrats support – “aspirations.” Klobuchar offered up more incremental changes, like expanding Medicaid access and allowing students to re-finance college debt.
Klobuchar’s more moderate policy stances could help her win over general election voters wary of such bold proposals, and their potential costs.
But her reluctance to endorse big structural changes could hurt her chances among Democratic primary voters – the people whose support she’ll need to make it to the general election in November 2020 – if the primary electorate prioritises candidates who put forth ambitious progressive policy changes over those who do not.
A recent INSIDER poll, for example, found that 80% of Americans support almost all of the ideas in the Green New Deal.
Klobuchar would have to set herself apart from other self-styled pragmatists.
Klobuchar’s unique appeal as a pragmatic, problem-solving Democrat may not stay that way for long. Former Colorado Gov.John Hickenlooper and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg are also running on their records of putting partisanship aside and working with Republicans to achieve concrete goals.
And if former Vice President and Pennsylvania native Joe Biden jumps into the race, he and Klobuchar will likely be competing for the same rust-belt states running on similar moderate policy platforms.
Thanks to his high name recognition and status in the Democratic Party, Biden currently leads in most pre-primary polls – although his advantage isn’t necessarily predictive of his future success 11 months out from the first primary contest.
She will face an uphill battle competing for non-white voters.
Klobuchar is betting on her working-class, Midwestern roots and bipartisan appeal to win over voters in early primary states such as Iowa and New Hampshire, and other nearby states that went to Trump in 2016, including Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.
But the schedule of the 2020 primaries gives a lot of early influence to California, South Carolina, Nevada, and Arizona – states where, unlike in Minnesota, voters of colour make up a substantial chunk of the Democratic base.
As FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver pointed out, previous white Democratic nominees like Bill Clinton and John Kerry performed exceptionally well among non-white voters. But as of yet, Klobuchar doesn’t seem to have a discernible strategy to win them over.
Washington Post opinion columnist Jonathan Capehart recently wrote that “Klobuchar must learn how to talk about race and do so in a way that lets African Americans know she sees them, that she knows how to talk to them,” warning that she, like Bernie Sanders in 2016, could struggle among African-American voters.
Many of Klobuchar’s opponents – including Sens. Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, and Elizabeth Warren – have already laid the groundwork in states like South Carolina and Nevada, and tailored their campaign messages to focus on issues of racial justice and equality.
Those candidates building up support among non-white voters early in the game could leave others, especially those like Klobuchar who haven’t had as much experience campaigning in communities of colour, at a disadvantage.
Her low-profile approach to politics may work against her
In 2016, Klobuchar sponsored or co-sponsored 27 bills that became law, more than any other senator that year – but you’ll never hear her brag about it.
Her instinct to keep the conversation on the issues and not on herself is an appealing quality in a potential president for many voters – especially those searching for the antithesis to Trump in a Democratic nominee.
But it could hurt her in such a crowded presidential field, where every candidate will have to command more attention than the rest and broadcast their accomplishments to attract voters and raise money.
Because of Klobuchar’s modesty when it comes to her own record, it’s hard to pin down any big legislative achievements she’s had in the senate or even any signature issues she’s known for.
She’s reportedly had trouble hiring and retaining staff
By the time Klobuchar announced her campaign for president in mid-February, news outlets had already started to publish stories of former staffers anonymously alleging that Klobuchar created a toxic work environment, regularly berating and even retaliating against aides.
Congressional data website LegiStorm shows Klobuchar’s Senate office has the highest rate of staff turnover in the entire US Senate, with the Huffington Post reporting that at least three candidates turned down the job of managing her presidential campaign over her reported treatment of staff.
More than a dozen former staffers anonymously told the Huffington Post, Yahoo News, and BuzzFeed News that Klobuchar was prone to verbal outbursts in the office and to sending angry emails, often describing aides’ work as “the worst.”
Former aides also told HuffPost, Yahoo, and The Times that Klobuchar retaliated against staff who tried to seek alternate employment by calling their new employers to have their job offers rescinded.
In a recent statement to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Klobuchar acknowledged she had “pushed people too hard” and promised to “do better” by her staff during the 2020 campaign.
Given how fast the news cycle moves, many of the negative reports may not reach or influence most primary voters, especially if the coverage around the issue peters out.
Even so, it could be more difficult for Klobuchar to run a successful presidential campaign on a sheer practical and logistical level if she has difficulty recruiting, keeping, and engendering loyalty among top aides and strategists.
With 14 candidates in the Democratic field all competing to hire and retain top staff, Klobuchar’s reputation among Democratic insiders could put her at a disadvantage when it comes to building a team.
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