The banner from her campaign website.

Nobody in California Knows who Amy Klobuchar Is; That Should Change

Whenever I have talked to California residents to tell them that I’m excited to watch Senator Amy Klobuchar in the 2020 race for president, almost all of them ask me one question, “Who’s that?”. The latest California specific polling, put out by Quinnipiac Polling on February 6th, doesn’t even list her as a potential option. Though we are just under one year from the Iowa caucuses, polling right now is still functionally a name recognition test- that’s why former Vice President Biden and Senator Harris are leading in California.

So who is Klobuchar? She’s a senator from Minnesota who first took office in 2007. She won reelection twice as an incumbent, most recently in 2018, where she kicked ass. What’s important to me is who she can sell herself as in the 2020 presidential race, and whether she’ll be effective at beating Trump. That’s what all of this is about- removing a demagogue with the worst authoritarian instincts from the highest, most influential, most powerful office, and hopefully electing a capable woman in his place. Beating Trump means playing the electoral college game.

Here’s map of the 2016 election:

If you look really closely, you can see me frantically pacing in my college apartment in Georgia, shell-shocked that night. I’m despairing over the state of America, claiming that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is now the leader of the free world, and bemoaning that Miami and New Orleans are effectively flooded because of the blow to environmentalism.

Stepping outside my personal reaction and looking at the map, three states decided that election: Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. These states were so-called the “blue wall”. Clearly walls don’t work. The popular edges for Trump were thin: in Wisconsin Trump got 1,405,284 votes and Clinton got 1,382,536 votes, in Michigan he got 2,279,543 votes and she got 2,268,839, and finally a bit bigger of a hill in Pennsylvania where Trump got 2,970,733 and Clinton got 2,926,441. Flipping the electoral votes of these states gave Trump the victory. This is an understood reality. It happened for both fair and unfair reasons- from a poor ground game in Michigan by Clinton to Comey’s untimely letter and Russian interference. What’s lost in the picture is that Minnesota was also a close finish, but happened to end up in the hands of the Democrats (Clinton: 1,367,716 and Trump: 1,322,951). A local Midwestern moderate politician like Klobuchar has intrinsic appeal to these crucial bellwethers. This is where one pillar of the case she can make emerges.

I’ll introduce a small caveat here- out of the four aforementioned states, in the 2016 primaries Bernie won Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota. This might indicate a certain appetite for a more progressive politician. Still, in a hypothetical world where he won the primary, replicated the final general election results, but also flipped Wisconsin and Michigan, he still would have lost the race. It’s a data point which is obviously unavailable to our timeline, now popularly known as “the darkest”, but one that might require some more analysis and investigation. I haven’t had the time or inclination to delve into it, because of a personal antipathy towards Bernie. I’ll let someone else tell his stories.

Nate Silver followed through on an interesting exercise after the 2018 midterms. He took the house race votes and approximated what the map would look like if 2018 were a presidential year. Now there are some caveats listed in making this map, so the whole article is also worth a read.

There are a couple of observations to be made here. Texas should be approached as a battleground state. It is turning increasingly blue, and if Beto is on the ticket, it’s a bucket of votes that Republicans have been relying on that’s suddenly in the air. Flipping Texas will force Republicans to start shifting policy priorities to appeal to city voters, and not profiteering on a system that elevates rural populations to greater importance. Ohio should be more or less ignored, unless the recently re-elected Brown is on the Democratic ticket. Florida is heartbreaking for Democrats especially after Gillum and Nelson lost races they were “supposed” to win. Statistically, it’s worth the fight, but emotionally it’s exhausting. Even this map makes it ultimately clear though- Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, will decide the general election.

So that’s the electoral strategy argument. The states that voted for Clinton will definitely vote for Klobuchar in the general, but Klobuchar has a great case to swing crucial states that didn’t. Who is Klobuchar? She’s the one with a clear path to the presidency.

The next is what I personally call the healer-in-chief argument. This is a polarized nation that was violently ripped apart by the Trump election. 2016 showed us that each of us that we lived in a bubble. Recognition of that bubble existing was the first step towards creating true progress towards a stronger national fabric. Continuing onwards, there were genuine signs of healing. Instead of being mad at each other, everyone got mad at Facebook. Ronan Farrow blew open the doors on sexual abuse, powerfully reigniting the #MeToo movement. The entire country recognized the failure of Trump’s Helsinki conference with Russia.

And then came the toxic hellhole of the Kavanaugh hearing. I’ll put my cards on the table- I think he did it, Ford was heroic in her testimony, and Kavanaugh shouldn’t be on the bench. Being invested in both sides of the news was wild and torturous though. I was cognizant of how the senators involved in the hearing were perceived. In the liberal media world, and especially in the Bay Area, Kamala Harris was a forceful, powerful, and liberating guardian. Lindsay Graham and Chuck Grassley were misogynistic tyrants. Flip the script in conservative areas of the country where Lindsay Graham 2.0 began trending and Cory Booker was mocked for his “Spartacus” comment. Democratic senators were called out for grandstanding by the Republican punditry.

There were only two people who universally & with bipartisan support came out looking well- Christine Blasey Ford and Amy Klobuchar. In an article about which Democrats “Never-Trump” Republicans would support in a general election, Katie Glueck summarizes the Republican take on Klobuchar’s performance in the hearings:

Then there is Klobuchar, a 58-year-old Midwestern woman with a record of winning in Trump territory, who may be better able to connect to a progressive grassroots hungry for diversity than Biden or Bloomberg, though there is fierce competition in the broader Democratic field. She also has a shorter legislative record than Biden does — less experience, but also fewer votes to explain (though her treatment of staff has already come under scrutiny).
In conversations with Republicans and former Republicans over the last week, several indicated interest in Klobuchar, who struck a milder tone in her questioning of now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh than did several of other current 2020 presidential contenders. Kavanaugh faced allegations of sexual assault from his high school days, and the sharp questioning of Kavanaugh from other hopefuls including Kamala Harris thrilled anguished Democratic activists who were convinced he shouldn’t be confirmed. But Republicans, even moderate Republicans, generally felt that Kavanaugh was being treated unfairly.

So that’s the second argument. She has a genuine chance to supplement her votes with the politically homeless Republicans who despise Trump and appreciate her performance during the Kavanaugh hearing. Nobody else has that ability aside from possibly Biden, should he choose to run. Representing a broader swath of the population will lead to national healing, versus more fracturing and statist isolation. Key to this argument is that far-left voters will also rally behind her, as Bernie supporters mostly did for Hillary in the general.

To this point, I haven’t mentioned policy aims at all. That was purposeful. I’m going to link through to Jeff Stein’s incredible series at the Washington Post that lists candidates’ policy agendas. From there, a network of articles can fill out the picture of each candidate. Here’s him on Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Julián Castro, Howard Schultz (lol, ugh), Cory Booker, and Amy Klobuchar.

Policy has its place in the debate, and I might do a more thorough accounting of it in another article. For now, a big sticking point for me is that I don’t support Medicare For All. Sarah Kliff penned a great article outlining my biggest issue regarding the proposal- presenting a false choice between private options and public healthcare, when a country can have both. Recent polling shows that when the slogan of “Medicare For All” is taken off the label, support plummets to 13% when people realize it means removing private insurance entirely. Kaiser Family Foundation has numbers that differ, but illustrate the same drastic drop in support. Amy Klobuchar meets my wishes on this point the best; she supports the expansion of medicare and medicaid, and the introduction of a public option. She might not meet your goals though; policy wishes are personal decisions to make.

Support drops from 71% to 37% when Medicare For All is explained as policy that would eliminate private health insurance.

My ideal policy goals also include focused environmentalism and foreign policy that is predicated on aid, robust diplomacy, and an interventionist US military. Still, as I spend a lifetime in the weeds, there is one clear conclusion. Any Democrat elected to the presidency will move America and the world largely in the globalist direction that I approve. None of the policy platforms are perfect, but I’m a liberal, progressive, capitalist Democrat. I agree with about 80% of the ideas of everyone on that candidate policy list. So the wonkier stuff matters to me, but not as much as electability over Trump and a more cohesive national fabric.

Now, no campaigns or people are perfect, and recent reporting about Klobuchar being an abusive boss have been saddening. Talented women reporters from Buzzfeed and Huffington Post have detailed a toxic work environment stemming from Klobuchar’s leadership. For me, nothing in them is particularly disqualifying as of yet, but I am apprehensive. For others, if the stories do prove disqualifying, then it’s understandable.

California actually matters this election cycle with a wide array of Democratic candidates in the primary. Moving the state to Super Tuesday is also helpful and means politicians will be making trips to the population centers of San Francisco and LA. Primary elections on the Democratic side follow proportional representation meaning that there are a bounty of delegates from California that will be crucial to picking the eventual nominee, and hopefully president. I hope Klobuchar is among them, and I hope that Californians pay attention to her campaign. She’s worth that at least.