DARTMOUTH, N.H. — Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., sprinted through New Hampshire this weekend, trying to use a widely praised debate performance — and an ensuing infusion of donations — to exceed expectations in the upcoming primary and beef up her skeletal organization in the races to come.
Hours after Friday's debate, her campaign announced that it had raised $1 million. By Saturday afternoon, they revised that number to $2 million. But Klobuchar, who has had strong debate performances in the past, acknowledged the challenge she faces at this inflection point: Can she turn a moment into momentum?
Campaign officials said they had 100 staffers spread between New Hampshire and Nevada, many fresh off planes from Iowa. The campaign is using its monetary bump to run television ads in South Carolina and bolster Super Tuesday efforts.
But first comes a frenetic race through New Hampshire, where Klobuchar has continued to add events to an already packed schedule.
"I know I'm not the candidate that's No. 1 right now, but we are surging," she told voters at Dartmouth, her third of four campaign events Saturday. "Someone told me in a text with an auto-correct that went bad: 'congratulations on your insurgency.' "
Klobuchar is competing for moderate voters along with Buttigieg, who claimed victory in the Iowa caucuses, and Biden, who placed a disappointing fourth. To standing-room-only crowds, she sold herself as a Goldilocks for those who believe the 77-year-old Biden is past his political prime and the 38-year-old Buttigieg is too young and inexperienced.
"I know it's fun to have political newcomers," she said Saturday, repeating a swipe she's made at Buttigieg. "But I think when you're dealing with [an election] like this, you want someone that can hit the ground running, that knows where the bodies are buried."
Klobuchar touted endorsements from The New York Times and newspapers in New Hampshire as evidence of her bona fides. And if voters want proof of what she has to offer, she said, they should re-watch her eighth debate performance.
Still, in an interview with The Washington Post, Klobuchar acknowledged the uphill battle she faces. The senator has consistently remained outside the top tier in polls, and it's not clear that she can garner significant support in Nevada and South Carolina, states that are significantly more diverse than Iowa.
In Nevada, which holds its caucuses Feb. 22, 3% of voters say Klobuchar is their first choice, according to a RealClearPolitics polling average. It's lower in South Carolina, where 2% of voters favor Klobuchar. Nearly two-thirds of that state's Democratic primary voters are black.
"The vice president right now has a big chunk of the support" in South Carolina right now, Klobuchar told The Washington Post. "They don't know me. And so I've got to get them to know me . . . then I'll just have to make the case."
It won't be easy. Activists groups have criticized Klobuchar, chief prosecutor in Minnesota's most populous county from 1999 to 2007, for refusing to bring charges in dozens of cases in which people were killed during encounters with police.
There are more immediate problems, too, such as the dwindling days before New Hampshire's primary.
Like the other senators vying for the White House, Klobuchar is trying to make up for time lost to the Senate impeachment trial. She's touted herself as an effective, aisle-crossing leader with a history of winning Republican-leaning areas of her home state. The Democrat casually told voters at the University of New Hampshire that she had been texting with John McCain's widow, Cindy, before coming onstage.
"I have won every red and purple, suburban and rural congressional district every single time I've run," she said Saturday afternoon. "I have won every race, every place, every time all the way down to fourth grade, where my slogan that I have since abandoned was, 'All the way with Amy K.' "
At events, she makes jokes. She mentions her father, a recovering alcoholic, is frequently visited by members of his Alcoholics Anonymous group at the assisted living facility where he resides, but "he says it's pretty hard to get a drink around here anyway."
She told voters that in one race, she had raised $17,000 from ex-boyfriends.
Undecided Democratic voters praised her wit but were more concerned with whether she could be a competent standard-bearer for the party, and a foil to President Donald Trump.
"I can't see the country swinging from the chaos and conservatism of the Trump administration to a very liberal candidate such as [Sen. Bernie] Sanders," said Darby Johnson, 58, of Newmarket, who said she was giving Klobuchar another look after the debate. "I just don't think the country is ready to go, boom, boom from one extreme to the other. And I wouldn't want to see that."
She said she especially wondered whether Klobuchar could win the vote over Biden. "She's a little bit younger and she's a woman . . . and I worry that Biden seems like he's two steps behind," she said.
Barry Rock and his wife, Jerrie, of Durham, New Hampshire, supported different moderates in the race. He leaned toward Biden, she favored Buttigieg. But after Klobuchar's debate performance, they decided to make the drive to the University of New Hampshire to hear her speak.
"Last night, if you asked me, I would have said Buttigieg," Jerrie Rock said. "But now I'm leaning toward her. Before, [Klobuchar] didn't have the spark. Last night, she had a fire in her."
This article was written by Cleve R. Wootson Jr., a reporter for The Washington Post.