By the time Senator Amy Klobuchar took the stage at Boom Island Park, the snow had obscured the view of Minneapolis, Minnesota, behind her. It could not have been a more perfect Minnesotan moment as thousands of people gathered to watch their senator announce her run for the presidency.
Klobuchar opened her speech by drawing on the Mississippi River that rolled behind her as a key metaphor for the ties that bind Americans together despite our differences, and then laid out her campaign themes. She promised to fix the economy for the people left behind by technological change. She vowed to restore voting rights and voting equality to all Americans. She talked about privacy and net neutrality, but touted her belief in basic science as she discussed the looming threat from climate change. (Minnesotans, unlike President Donald Trump who tweeted on the matter, know that, even when it’s snowing, climate change is a real threat.)
Throughout, she punctuated her promises with stories from her own family and those of modern Minnesotans struggling with the challenges of the 21st century. As she finished, she drew strong applause for her line: “I’m asking you to join us on this campaign. It’s a homegrown one. I don’t have a political machine. I don’t come from money. But what I do have is this: I have grit.”
The question of whether Klobuchar would run had been looming as one of the great unknown factors in the 2020 Democratic Party primary. Klobuchar is wildly popular in her home state and can run as a sensible moderate Democrat able to win in the Midwest. That’s not just critical for the primary—the Iowa Caucus sets the tone for the whole race—but for the eventual general election. Klobuchar’s supporters will argue that she’s best situated (other than perhaps Joe Biden, who has yet to announce if he’s seeking the nomination) to take Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania back for the Democrats.
As I moved through the crowd at the campaign launch, talking to high schoolers and senior citizens alike, we sipped hot cocoa, warmed ourselves by campfires, and discussed what voters perceived the big issues to be. Rather than focusing on “horserace” politics and questions of electability, I kept asking the same question: What do you want candidates to discuss as they compete for your vote? The Minnesotans I met before Klobuchar made her own remarks consistently brought up the threat of climate change, the need to provide health care for all, and a desire to restore basic stability in our federal government.
Those in the crowd have known about Klobuchar’s alleged aggressive management style, the focus of many recent reports, since her 2006 campaign, and have continued to vote for her by wide margins. As soon as it became clear she was running for president, those allegations that she was abusive to her staff resurfaced. I found no one at the rally who wanted to talk about the issue.
Moreover, not only were those in the crowd disinterested in Klobuchar’s history as a boss, but they also didn’t want to talk about the personalities or pasts of the other Democratic candidates. Even the critics of Klobuchar, and there were some, worried that her policies don’t go far enough to mitigate the big challenges ahead. One pair of women holding Green New Deal signs, for example, told me that they believed it was necessary to work on mitigating climate change and transforming the economy at the same time. They weren’t sure whether Klobuchar agreed with them.
People were more than willing, however, to talk about Trump‘s personality. Both the crowd and the senator herself invoked his tweeting and general erratic behavior as a threat to the future of American Democracy itself. The Minnesotans present indicated they were ready to support just about any competent human against Trump, but were happy to gather in the snow and watch their senator start her own journey.
Klobuchar is not as radical as Minneapolis, but she’s proven popular in Minnesota. On the banks of the Mississippi she did speak to the concerns of the people gathered there. In the months that follow, we will see to what extent she can carry those ideas downstream.