by George Zhai
In the last Democratic presidential candidate debate, one out of the twelve candidates on stage best articulated a blueprint for Democrats to defeat President Donald Trump in the 2020 election. This candidate was not the co-front runners, former Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, nor was it Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who made a triumphant and energetic return after his recent attack. Instead, it was Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, previously best known for her unorthodox choice of salad-eating utensils and her proficiency in hurling binders at staffers.
Klobuchar presented the best retort to the ambitious, progressive plans of Senator Warren yet, criticizing Warren for refusing to state whether her Medicare-for-All proposal would raise middle-class taxes, and chastising Warren’s implicit critique that any candidate who didn’t support Warren’s “wealth tax” was supporting the billionaire class. Furthermore, Klobuchar articulated the importance of uniting the Democratic Party’s centrist and progressive wings to combat the shared objective of defeating President Trump, rather than getting embroiled in ideological purity tests that would only exacerbate intra-party chasms and serve as a boon to Trump’s re-election chances.
The Minnesota Senator sits at a measly two percent in national polling, and has not raked in the impressive fundraising numbers some of her rivals have, yet her performance in the debate on Tuesday and her work in the Senate illustrates why she may be the Democrats’ best-equipped candidate to take on Trump. First, Klobuchar has demonstrated a consistent ability to win statewide races by a significant margin in Minnesota, a longtime Democratic bastion that Trump lost by less than two points in 2016. More impressively, Klobuchar has a history of winning deep-red districts in her state, including the district once represented by conservative firebrand Michelle Bachmann, demonstrating an ability to appeal to Republican voters. Her Midwestern farmland chops provide experience in dealing with issues facing voters that have seen their local economies detrimentally affected by factory closings and Trump’s trade war with China, an asset that could translate in Minnesota’s neighbors like Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan, states the Democrats must wrest away from Trump in 2020.
Furthermore, while Warren’s catchphrase is “I have a plan for everything”, Klobuchar, in her twelve years in the Senate, has had a “bill for everything”. In the 114th Congressional period between 2015 and 2017, Klobuchar ranked first among all senators in bills that were enacted into law, with twenty-seven. In this past year alone, Klobuchar has sponsored bipartisan legislation on issues as diverse as election security, campaign advertisement regulation and broadband expansion, working in concert with conservative Senators such as Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and John Hoeven (R-ND). Klobuchar’s impressive record of legislation suggests a capability to enact bills with bipartisan support, without eradicating the filibuster or requiring extensive executive action, as would be needed with the more ambitious plans proposed by her Democratic rivals.
Even as her campaign reported an eight-figure surge in fundraising following her debate performance, the viability of Klobuchar’s candidacy requires the three frontrunners, Warren, Biden and Sanders, to falter significantly. Klobuchar is not the only candidate looking to establish themselves as the ‘electable’, energetic moderate, as South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, too, fills that lane. However, unlike Buttigieg, Klobuchar has legislative experience beyond governing a college town of 100,000 and her centrist positions have been consistent, rather than political consultant-engineered statements that contradict past stances. And while Klobuchar lacks the name ID of Biden, Sanders, and Warren, she also does not possess Biden’s history of gaffes or Sanders and Warren’s polarizing policies; her unflappable, head-down approach could even prove appealing against Trump and his countless controversies and egotistical bravado.
Thus, if Biden stumbles, and a swath of Democratic voters are uncomfortable with the progressive visions of Sanders and Warren, Klobuchar could be the centrist Democrat who can appeal to swing voters and independents that are necessary for a general election victory against Trump.
George, a sophomore in the SFS, hails from Hong Kong and writes about US electoral politics and US-China relations.