As Amy Klobuchar worked her way through Iowa this week as an official 2020 candidate, she pitched a message of Midwest electability to local Democrats who saw their own state go red in 2016.
“To do all this, we need to win,” Klobuchar told the Ankeny Democrats on Thursday after listing out her policy priorities. “Here’s my deal: I have won every single congressional district in the state of Minnesota – including Michelle Bachmann’s – three times. Trump almost won Minnesota, it was Hillary’s smallest margin in the country … Then come the 2018 election, and we showed him.”
The neighbor-state senator explained how Democrats swept all of Minnesota’s statewide races last year.
And Klobuchar certainly has a strong track record of electoral wins to cite. She won her first Senate race in 2006 by 20 points, carrying all but eight counties. She followed that up with a 35-point win in 2012 and a 24-point win in 2018.
Of course, as many Democratic activists have pointed out this year, an “electability” argument shouldn’t be limited to just candidates who have an advantage with blue-collar (and typically white) voters in the Midwest. They’re correct, as a different candidate could be just as “electable” because their base of support puts North Carolina and Georgia into play. Someone who excites Latino voters could be “electable” by flipping Arizona and maybe even Texas. Being specific about which type of “electability” you’re talking about is important.
But that specific type of “Midwest electability” may resonate a little stronger with Iowa caucus-goers as they consider their choices for president. A strong national nominee that carries Iowa in the general election almost certainly means a better chance of down-ballot Democrats winning here as well.
Local candidates typically can only overperform or underperform the top-of-ticket by so much. A Democratic presidential candidate who can fight to a tie in the rural part of Dubuque County gives the party a better chance of winning the legislative district there that could give Democrats a majority in the Iowa House.
Hillary Clinton struggled in Iowa, losing it by nine points after Barack Obama carried it by six just four years earlier (the largest swing in a state in the country). Democrats got wiped out on the local level here that year, losing six seats in the Iowa Senate from districts that Donald Trump performed very well in. The party rebounded to a certain extent in 2018, winning three of Iowa’s four congressional districts and coming within 3 points in the governor’s race.
And Klobuchar specifically highlighted her leadership in Minnesota’s coordinated campaign, the Democratic campaign operation that works with all the party’s major candidates.
“In Minnesota, we had this incredibly coordinated ticket that I led,” she said. “I won in a bunch of Trump counties. I do that by meeting people where they are. I visit all 87 counties in my state every year. I believe that you go not just where it’s comfortable, but where it’s uncomfortable.”
That kind of message is what some Iowans are listening for, including State Representative Heather Matson of Ankeny, who just won a hard-fought race in key swing seat.
“I think it’s always a consideration when you’re an elected official and you’re on the ballot,” Matson told Starting Line. “One thing I’m thinking about, because I’m proud to be a Democrat, is who’s going to focus on party building. Not just my race, but if they’re essentially going to be leading our coordinated campaign, making sure they have a team in place that cares about the whole ticket.”
A Minnesota Democrat who was part of that 2018 ticket came down for the Ankeny event to introduce Klobuchar. State Senator John Hoffman, who represents a suburban seat and used to live in Iowa, mentioned that Klobuchar is one of two Democrats to win the most-ever votes statewide in the Minnesota.
“I live in a 50/50 district, and Amy Klobuchar got 58% to 68% in that area,” Hoffman told Starting Line. “She can cross that line and win over people who want a pragmatic, commonsense person. That helps across the board. Anytime Amy is on the ticket, it brings up the turnout. It’s a definite plus for people on the down-ballot.”
When talking with reporters after the event, Klobuchar noted that candidates from the coasts have won in the Midwest before, but that she felt her profile offered a strong chance of success in states like Iowa.
“It’s important to have voices from the Heartland,” she said. “I am a candidate from the Heartland, and it’s an important part of our path to success in the general election. My mom was born in Wisconsin, I made my first stop there … I think the Midwest is going to be key, and I’m going to every state in the Midwest to make that point.”
Klobuchar’s first campaign stop after announcing was in Wisconsin, a nod to the significant criticism that Clinton’s campaign team got for skipping trips to the state in the general election. That’s been a frustration for Klobuchar for some time; she mentioned it often in her visits to Iowa during the midterms.
She already has one prominent Iowa on board who is very familiar with the importance of party building: former Iowa Democratic Party chair Andy McGuire. Klobuchar announced McGuire as her state chair on Thursday.
“I think Amy Klobuchar is the person who can win this election,” McGuire said.
If enough other Iowans feel the same, that could put Klobuchar into the top set of contenders for the caucus. A win or close top-three placing here is almost a necessity for her.
And if Klobuchar does become the nominee, it’s quite clear that she would return to Iowa often to contest it in the general election.
by Pat Rynard
Photos by Julie Fleming