Amy Klobuchar is presidential timber. She's experienced, smart, tough, effective, capable of being bipartisan, likable, measured. All the things Americans once seemed to prefer in a president, and the exact opposite of the person who currently occupies the White House.
But is that a good thing as we hurtle toward the 2020 election?
Klobuchar, the Democratic U.S. senator from Minnesota, made a quick stop at a downtown Fargo coffee shop Thursday, June 6 to tell a few dozen supporters about her presidential campaign. With former North Dakota U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp there to fire up the crowd and let Flickertail State Democrats know that she considers Klobuchar her "sister," it was a fine event.
Klobuchar is so whip-smart and personable, it's hard not to like her. She's the daughter of a newspaper columnist, which makes her particularly wonderful. She's made her mark in the Senate by tackling what she calls "bread-and-butter issues" like prescription drug prices and the opioid crisis, while avoiding the temptation to run her mouth about divisive issues like the border, abortion and guns.
That approach has served her well in Minnesota, where she easily won re-election last fall by winning 51 of 87 counties, 42 of which were won by Donald Trump in 2016.
Nationally, her story is different. She's consistently polling in the low single-digits among the 24 announced Democratic candidates. While Klobuchar's polling and donor numbers are enough to qualify her for the "top tier" of early debate candidates, she's far behind front-runners like Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders in both supporters, name recognition and all-important cash.
She's in the Cory Booker range of popularity, a notch above Julian Castro, and it's possible those reading these words have never heard of either Booker or Castro.
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So while Klobuchar tells wonderful homespun tales of her schoolteacher mother dressing up like a monarch butterfly and laments how Trump's divisiveness is eroding America's sense of community, it plays well in Fargo and Moorhead. As a politician, she's Minnesota Nice. She works hard and get things done, traits near the top of the list of North Dakota and Minnesota values.
But it was telling in the coffee shop that the loudest and longest applause came not for Klobuchar, but for Heitkamp when Klobuchar mentioned the former senator's crucial vote against Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court confirmation. Those sitting rose to their feet to cheer Heitkamp's vote.
Primary voters, in both parties, are often more extreme in their views than those in general elections. They are the hardest of the hard-core, activists willing to get involved for their preferred candidate. And Klobuchar is very, well, not extreme. Bread and butter is bland and safe, even if effective and pragmatic.
So the question becomes: Can bread and butter win the primary?
"You'd be surprised," Heitkamp said after the rally. "I've been all around the country, and I've spoken to some of the most liberal of the liberal groups because I think it's important for a moderate to talk to everybody in the party. And the No. 1 criteria I hear from everybody in the Democratic Party is, 'can they beat him?' "
"Him" would be Trump, of course.
"That's what Democrats want to know. Can a candidate beat him? Electability is the No. 1 issue today for Democrats. It's all about electability," Heitkamp added.
If you're a Klobuchar supporter, you'd like to think smart, tough and effective would beat Trump. The trouble for the senator from Minnesota is going to come long before she has the opportunity to do that. She has to convince primary voters that bread and butter is as alluring as Green New Deals and Medicare-For-All for hardcore Democratic voters.