Why you should care
Because her unlikely rise could create a new moderate standard-bearer.
Frankly, it was a bit shocking meeting Ian Headon at an Amy Klobuchar rally last weekend. At a middle school in Nashua, New Hampshire, just hours after rising media darling Pete Buttigieg had held his own rally at another middle school in Nashua, the middle-aged Irishman had traveled across the ocean to see … a folksy, cliché-slinging, walking-mom-joke senator from Minnesota?
Headon had watched Klobuchar during the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Justice Brett Kavanaugh and came away impressed enough to sign up to phone bank from snowy New Hampshire this weekend. “To my mind, of all the Democratic candidates right now, she would be the best president,” he said, squeezing those words with all the accented emphasis of a stress ball. “She’s got the right temperament. She can speak to Middle America. And she is the only one who has the toughness and steel to be president.”
What most in establishment politics, the punditry class and polling industry couldn’t see was clear to Headon even from Ireland. And on Tuesday, Klobuchar showed that her combination of charm and grit — her stump speeches are often littered with odes to both — is potentially a winning one in a primary still searching for a moderate standard-bearer.
“Donald Trump’s worst nightmare is that the people in the middle, the people who have had enough of the name-calling and the mud-slinging, have someone to vote for in November,” Klobuchar said Tuesday in Concord, in as joyous a third-place speech as you’ll find, where she touted a campaign that defied the odds.
She has confidence, a sense of humor, and I think she can beat Trump.
Jeanne Pratt, Klobuchar supporter
Sure, Sen. Bernie Sanders came off with the overall victory. Going into the night, the Forecast, OZY’s exclusive prediction model done in partnership with Republican consulting firm 0ptimus and election-results company Decision Desk HQ, had predicted Sanders would win — and also had him as the overall favorite to win the nomination, giving him about a 20 percent chance to win a majority of the delegates: That number will soon rise with his top finish in the Granite State.
Still, that early dominance from the Democratic Socialist has sent some Democrats scrambling for a center-left foil. Joe Biden’s campaign has fallen apart, with the former vice president fleeing for what he hopes are friendlier climes in South Carolina rather than witness first-hand his fifth-place finish in New Hampshire. Buttigieg, after winning the most delegates in Iowa and finishing second here, could replace Biden — but his next-to-nothing support from African American voters has many questioning whether his campaign will survive when it leaves behind the snow-white states.
Which leaves Klobuchar as the latest and greatest centrist hope (at least until former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s war chest blows up Super Tuesday in March). And the 59-year-old former prosecutor, the “daughter of a teacher and a newspaperman” and “granddaughter of an iron worker,” as she loves to tell crowds, has a real case to make now. After finishing with around 20 percent of the vote — not far behind Buttigieg, leapfrogging Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren to place third — she is poised to capitalize. Can the Klobucharm Offensive, a mix of “consensus-building, pragmatism and a sometimes-goofy style,” as OZY described it in 2014, prevail?
“She has experience, compared to Pete. She worked across the aisle, has several bills that were bipartisan. She has confidence, a sense of humor, and I think she can beat Trump,” said Jeanne Pratt, who attended the Klobuchar rally in Nashua and planned to back her.
Going into the night, the Forecast only gave her a 1 percent shot at winning the nomination (after all, she had finished fifth in Iowa, earning just one delegate and 12 percent of the vote). Her “electability” case going forward will continue to stress her ability to win red districts in Minnesota and promise to win the rest of the Rust Belt that helped carry Trump to his surprise victory in 2016. “It’s going to be a different case when she gets to the Midwest. I think the voters are going to respond to her more than somebody from the East Coast,” Pratt says.
Plus, Klobuchar has earned respect with her commanding debate performances, particularly in New Hampshire — which may have helped sway the vote in a state where some two-fifths of voters were saying they still were undecided over the weekend.
The biggest challenge for Klobuchar? Because she has been an underdog for so long, she doesn’t have a national operation — her campaign is frantically redeploying staff to Nevada, South Carolina and beyond. She’s trailed in money, though she got a $2 million one-day boost from Friday’s debate performance. Also, as a low-polling candidate thus far, she’s yet to field any sustained attacks from her opponents on issues such as stories about her mistreatment of staff.
Still, while her chances of becoming the nominee remain slim, her success may have at least one lasting effect: cementing Sanders as the frontrunner by possibly kneecapping his biggest challenger in New Hampshire. “Did Klobuchar’s surge cost Buttigieg?” as David Plouffe, a former Obama adviser, asked on MSNBC.
The example of Headon suggests it may have. Earlier, the Irishman had said Buttigieg’s speeches were all “mom and apple pie.” But nonetheless, he would have supported Buttigieg as a moderate choice … if it weren’t for his love affair with the Minnesota senator who gave her campaign kickoff speech in a blizzard.
“I was a fan of President Obama because he could both inspire but also was actually able to execute on a mandate … She’s got the steel, and experience, to execute,” Headon says. But before she gets to the Oval Office, of course, she’ll have to prove something else. “I’m just not sure she can win the nomination,” he adds, somewhat demurely.