Amy Klobuchar Seeks Democratic Presidential Nod as Unifier

Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee markup hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Sept. 28, 2018. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh appears headed toward approval by the Senate Judiciary Committee after pivotal Flake said he'll vote to confirm the nominee. Photographer: Aaron P. Bernstein/Bloomberg

Amy Klobuchar, a third-term U.S. senator from Minnesota and a former prosecutor, announced her bid for president on Sunday with a vow to “heal the heart of our democracy and renew our commitment to the common good.”

The senator spoke at a rally in a Minneapolis park along the banks of the Mississippi River, where supporters braved a steady snowfall and temperatures hovered around 14 degrees Fahrenheit (-10 Celsius). Campaign aides handed out hot cider and cookies.

“I am running for this job for every person who wants their work recognized and rewarded,” Klobuchar said. “For every worker, farmer, dreamer and builder.”

“We are tired of the shutdowns and the showdowns, of the gridlock and the grandstanding,” Klobuchar said. “Today, on this snowy day, on this island, we say, ‘Enough is enough.’ Our nation must be governed not from chaos, but from opportunity. Not by wallowing over what’s wrong, but by marching inexorably toward what’s right.”

Reading somewhat from notes but using no teleprompter and not wearing gloves during the speech of more than 20 minutes, Klobuchar promised to reverse many of President Donald Trump’s policies, especially on environmental issues.

“The people are on our side when it comes to climate change,” Klobuchar said. The U.S., she said, needs to get to “universal health care” and bring down the cost of prescription drugs.

Klobuchar, 58, joins a growing crowd in the 2020 Democratic primary field that so far includes four of her Senate colleagues, Kamala Harris of California, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. As many as a dozen other Democrats have announced campaigns or are considering joining the race.

Klobuchar is entering the contest as the Democratic Party’s progressive wing is fighting for dominance. Several of her competitors, including Warren and — potentially — Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, have been strongly embraced by the left.

Across the Aisle

Instead, she is likely to highlight her record of working across the aisle at times. Her voting record is that of a traditional Democrat: She’s been a past supporter of middle-class tax relief, Obamacare and a minimum-wage hike. In 2016, she had a 100 percent voting rating from the League of Conservation Voters and an 82 percent rating with the ACLU, and just a 63 percent rating from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a 4 percent rating from the American Conservative Union.

Still, in 2018, she participated in bipartisan talks on a broad immigration compromise that would have bolstered border security and shielded young undocumented immigrants from deportation, although it ultimately was defeated in the Senate. Klobuchar has pointed out that two-thirds of the bills she’s sponsored have had a Republican co-sponsor, including legislation on military sexual assault and fraud against senior citizens.

Earlier this month, Klobuchar voted in favor of a broad Middle East policy measure that would require Trump to impose new sanctions on Syria and provides aid for Israel, which was opposed by her four Senate colleagues in the nomination race.

‘Minnesota Nice’

Her high ratings at home may demonstrate electability in a general election, an asset among a Democratic base eager to defeat Trump. First elected to the Senate in 2006, Klobuchar galloped to a third term last year, thumping her Republican rival by 24 points. The margin was much larger Hillary Clinton’s 1.5-point victory in Minnesota’s presidential race in 2016.

She’s remained well-liked in Minnesota in part by laying low during many hot-button partisan fights and siding with the moderate wing of her party when there’s an ideological split.

But her roll-out, and her evocation of “Minnesota nice” — a stereotype that people from her home state are typically courteous and mild-mannered — hit a snag in recent days after reports that the senator has mistreated aides and asked staff to do personal chores, leading to high turnover. Huffington Post and BuzzFeed News were among the outlets that quoted former aides who weren’t identified. The stories also cited aides who said they didn’t have that experience. A Klobuchar campaign aide said the senator “loves her staff.”

‘Great Avoider’?

Former Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson, a Republican, once called Klobuchar “the great avoider.” She’s also taken criticism from the left, and once angered environmentalists with efforts to remove Minnesota wolves from the endangered species list.

There are also questions about what kind of Democrat is right for what could be a bare-knuckled brawl of a 2020 general election. “In the Fight Club era of American politics, will ‘Minnesota nice’ work? That’s the challenge Amy Klobuchar faces especially with Democratic activists in the primary,” said Mary Anne Marsh, a Democratic strategist based in Boston.

Klobuchar is seeking to cap an elective career that began in 1998 when she was elected to the first of two terms as top prosecuting attorney for Hennepin County, which includes Minneapolis, before being elected the first woman senator ever from the state in 2006. She has never lost an election to date and is considered the most popular statewide official in Minnesota, a traditionally Democratic state.

Klobuchar so far barely registers in surveys of 2020 Democratic hopefuls, with support of about 1.3 percent in a RealClear Politics average. But her name recognition and popularity in Minnesota may translate to neighboring Iowa, which hosts the first nominating contest in each presidential election cycle.

Judiciary Committee

She’s has been seen as a Democratic rising star, even though her time in an increasingly partisan Senate has yet to see her emerge as the author of grand legislation. Her name has been floated in the past as a potential Supreme Court nominee and as a possible vice presidential pick for Clinton in 2016. Klobuchar was an early backer of Clinton, and served as a fundraiser and surrogate for the former secretary of state and first lady.

“I don’t have a political machine. I don’t come from money. But what I do have is this: I have grit,” Klobuchar said on Sunday.

A member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Klobuchar was most recently in the public eye during the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, and she helped lead Democratic opposition to him and Trump’s other high-court pick, Neil Gorsuch.

Klobuchar has been a member of the Senate Democratic leadership team since 2015, heading up the Democratic caucus’s steering committee. She’s also the top Democrat on the Senate Rules Committee, a post that had her working with Republican Chair Roy Blunt of Missouri in 2018 on legislation improving how sexual harassment complaints against lawmakers are handled.

Pie Cutter

Klobuchar grew up in the Minneapolis suburbs, where her father was a columnist for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. She’s talked about holding some low-paying jobs as she grew up, which led her to advocate a minimum-wage increase. “I’ve had a number of minimum wage-type jobs, as a carhop, as a highway worker and as a pie cutter,” she said on the Senate floor in 2007. “If there are other pie cutters in the U.S. Senate, I’d like to meet them.”

A graduate of Yale University and the University of Chicago Law School, Klobuchar was an attorney in private practice when she got involved in an effort to require a state law to guarantee women a 48-hour hospital stay after delivering a baby. She’s said her interest came from her own experience, when as a new mother, she was discharged after 24 hours because her insurance wouldn’t cover more. She testified before the state legislature, urging the 48-hour standard. It was approved.

She later ran for Hennepin County prosecuting attorney in 1998 and was re-elected in 2002. During her time there she led a crackdown on gun crimes and secured nearly 300 homicide convictions.

After eight years as county attorney, Klobuchar ran for the Senate seat being vacated by first-term Democrat Mark Dayton, who later won election as governor. She beat Republican Mark Kennedy with 58 percent of the vote, easily won a second term with 65 percent of the vote, and secured her third term in November with a comfortable 60 percent.

Klobuchar in 2015 appeared to borrow from the playbook of presidential hopefuls by producing an autobiography. Her book, “The Senator Next Door: A Memoir from the Heartland,” detailed her rise from suburban granddaughter of immigrants to a national politician. It also chronicled challenges including her father’s struggle with alcoholism, a topic she touched on during Kavanaugh’s Senate hearing, and her parents’ divorce. DM


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