Klobuchar plays up Midwest roots in bid for Michigan victory
Amy Klobuchar's third place finish in Tuesday's New Hampshire Democratic presidential primary was a boost for the Minnesota U.S. senator, who has touted her practicality and Midwest roots in an uphill bid to win states like Michigan.
Klobuchar has visited Michigan more times during the primary campaign than any of her opponents, dropping into the state at least six times since declaring her candidacy a year ago. She was the first presidential candidate to visit a picket line of striking United Auto Workers union members in September.
Klobuchar's seven delegates through two Democratic contests are the fourth highest total among the eight candidates. She trails Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren's total by one delegate and leads former Vice President Joe Biden by one.
Klobuchar has hung in the race longer than some predicted she would, Detroit-based Democratic political consultant Mario Morrow said.
"Overall, she has been a stealth candidate who has moved the needle, surprisingly," Morrow said. "She has great credentials and is connecting with constituents across the country, including Michigan."
Four years ago, Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders won the New Hampshire primary with 60% of the vote over Hillary Clinton. But Sanders narrowly came out on top Tuesday with about 26% as former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Klobuchar captured some of his prior support base, Morrow said.
From here, he said, Klobuchar needs to create an urban agenda to capture the vote of African Americans, Latinos and other minority constituents.
"She’s got a lot of work to do in the primaries that are coming up that have a large percentage of African-American voters," Morrow said, referring to the Feb. 22 Nevada caucuses and Feb. 29 South Carolina primary. "It's really early in the game, and Iowa and New Hampshire are not representative of the United States of America."
"With black people and Amy, it's not about 'what have you done for me lately,' it's about 'what have you done for me.'"
East Lansing resident Mary Wickens regards Klobuchar as a formidable opponent for Republican President Donald Trump. The 59-year-old former county prosecutor has gained favor over Trump in some of her home state's most Republican counties.
"A lot of people see her rising at this point," said Wickens, a lawyer and longtime Democrat. "She's sensible. She's fit and incredibly hard working. All of those things drew me to her. I absolutely think it's time for a woman to lead this country."
Klobuchar is among three female candidates in the eight-candidate Democratic field and has touted her ability to win elections.
"Yes, I have bold ideas, but they are grounded in reality," Klobuchar said during one of the two Democratic presidential debates in Detroit in late July. "And, yes, I will make some simple promises. I can win this. I'm from the Midwest."
The latest campaign finance figures show Klobuchar had $4.9 million in reserve after spending $10.1 million in the most recent reporting period. She has trailed most other candidates in raising money in Michigan.
Klobuchar most recently attended a late September forum alongside Warren sponsored by the United Food and Commercial Workers International union. Both used the Madison Heights event to advocate for Trump's impeachment. He was acquitted following a January trial in the Senate.
Klobuchar in September also became the first presidential candidate to visit then-striking General Motors Co. workers on the picket line, greeting UAW members with doughnuts outside the Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant.
The visit was part of Klobuchar's "Blue Wall" tour in key Midwest states won by Trump in 2016. She has touted her record of winning in parts of Minnesota that Republicans traditionally take.
Klobuchar has sparred with Sanders over health care, most recently arguing during a Friday debate in New Hampshire that Sanders' Medicare for All plan isn't realistic.
"It is not real, Bernie, because two-thirds of the Democrats in the Senate are not on your bill and because it would kick 149 million Americans off their health insurance in four years," she said.
Klobuchar has said that her public option approach is "progressive and practical." She has co-sponsored bills that would let states allow all of their residents to buy Medicaid coverage or let any American buy a public insurance plan based on Medicare on the Affordable Care Act exchanges.
No matter who the eventual nominee is, winning the battleground state will be critical to the party's success, Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes said.
"They will have to speak to the concerns of working families in communities throughout our state and build a ground game that can turn out important constituencies," Barnes said in a statement.
Klobuchar, who easily won a third term in the U.S. Senate in 2018, has pointed to her broad appeal across Minnesota.
Trump narrowly lost Democratic-dominated Minnesota to Democrat Hillary Clinton, while winning Michigan by 10,704 votes or less than two-tenths of a percentage point.
Ex-presidential candidate and former Pennsylvania U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak endorsed Klobuchar last week, saying she's uniquely qualified.
"We need a nominee with a depth and breadth of experience to govern effectively, a proven track record of winning in red and blue districts and states so we can unite this country again, and an understanding of the need to rebuild our global leadership so we can convene the world to tackle the defining challenges of our time,” Sestak said in a statement.
Critics hit track record
Klobuchar's legislative record has drawn criticism from the GOP and some fellow Democrats who question whether she has the ability to get things done.
Klobuchar advocated for harsher penalties for juvenile offenders while campaigning in the late 1990s for Hennepin County prosecutor. But the mood of the party has since shifted toward criminal justice reforms, so she has faced scrutiny over her racial justice record amid new questions raised in an Associated Press investigation over the controversial prosecution of Myron Burrell, who is serving life behind bars in the 2002 shooting death of an 11-year-old girl. He maintains his innocence.
In a recent interview with “Fox News Sunday,” Klobuchar denied that she had knowledge of any evidence that would call the conviction into question.
The Michigan Republican Party indicated it doesn't fear Klobuchar's campaign, saying it is paving the way for another historic victory in November as the Democrats "slice and dice each other in their divisive primary."
"As Democrats now start to pour into a state they are severely out-of-touch with, the Michigan Republican Party and Trump Victory have been on the ground and in every corner of the state since early 2019," party Chair Laura Cox said in a statement. "The GOP's unprecedented data and expansive ground game provides us with an incredible edge, and the opportunity to reach out to more voters earlier than ever."
On the issues
Klobuchar's platform includes her co-sponsorship of the "Green New Deal," a Democratic clean energy plan proposed to combat climate change.
In the wake of the coronavirus, Klobuchar last month released a plan to prevent and respond to global outbreaks like the new virus, which has sickened people in China and spread to more than a dozen countries, including the United States.
Klobuchar said she would invest in early-warning systems to help stop outbreaks before they become pandemics, increase stockpiles of existing vaccines and invest in the development of new vaccines and increase funding for health departments and agencies.
For Karen Clark of DeWitt, the top priority this election cycle is to have a Democrat win back the White House.
To do it, she contends, the party needs a moderate candidate and Klobuchar may be its best chance.
"I find Amy to be honest. I find her to be straightforward, and I find her to be no-nonsense," said Clark, a 56-year-old senior project manager for the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University. "I like the fact that she gets out there and says 'I'm not going to feed you a bunch of false promises.'"
"I'm going to vote blue no matter who," added Clark. "But I would like to see her campaign get more traction. She does appeal to a lot of the middle-class and a lot of the people in our state."
In rural Charlotte, near Battle Creek, Becky Lake said she's been pushing for a White House run for Klobuchar since 2017 and created a Twitter hashtag to promote it.
Lake, who was working in Minnesota on a contract job when Klobuchar first got into politics, said she's always admired the senator's Midwestern values — "hard work, taking care of family and looking after each other."
"Amy has enough experience and she's been low-key enough, but yet accomplished," said Lake, 60, who works in real estate and regularly donates to Klobuchar's campaign.
"She'll make a great first woman president."
Klobuchar has experience and a platform with appeal for Michigan voters, said TJ Bucholz, president and CEO of the Democratic consulting firm Vanguard Public Affairs.
"She brings a Midwest sensibility that I think resonates with the moderate, middle-of-the-road voters here," Bucholz said. "She talks pocketbook issues, issues important to the average voter."
Claims to fame: The three-term Minnesota senator raised her national profile during a Senate committee hearing for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh when she asked him whether he had ever had so much to drink that he didn’t remember what happened. He replied, “Have you?”
Detroit debate moment: "...I have won every race, every place, every time. And I will govern with integrity, the integrity worthy of the extraordinary people of this nation."
Biggest strength: She’s known as a pragmatic lawmaker who has won Republican parts of Minnesota.
Biggest weakness: Her pragmatism may work against her as Democratic voters increasingly embrace more liberal policies and positions. There have also been news reports that she has mistreated staff.
Candidate visits to Michigan: May 3 in Detroit; May 19 in Detroit; July 23 in Detroit; July 30 in Detroit; Sept. 19 in Detroit, Hamtramck and River Rouge, Sept. 29 in Madison Heights.