Hitting the 37-year-old man on his lack of experience is one obvious approach. The mayor would be by far the youngest person ever to be elected. His two closest competitors for that title, Theodore Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, also had considerably more national experience than Buttigieg when they were elected. Roosevelt had served as governor of the nation’s largest state, New York, and then briefly as vice president before becoming president, while Kennedy had been a U.S. congressman and then senator for a combined 14 years. The most recent CBS/YouGov Iowa poll shows that only 26 percent of Iowa Democrats think a newcomer to national politics is the best way to beat President Trump. Klobuchar could hit Buttigieg hard and often on his youth and lack of experience.
Klobuchar could also draw a contrast with Buttigieg on something she knows a lot about: the Supreme Court. The University of Chicago-trained lawyer serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee and earned plaudits for her performance during the confirmation hearings for Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh. Buttigieg, like many on the Democratic Party’s left wing, responded by embracing efforts to increase the number of Supreme Court justices, a proposal that has been and will be slammed by Trump and Republicans as trying to pack the court.
Klobuchar did not rush to court the party’s left, and so can use this issue to show how the mayor was both rash and imprudent by embracing an issue that will inevitably scare swing voters that Democrats need to beat Trump. A recent national poll showed 56 percent of Americans, including majorities of moderates and independents, oppose increasing the number of Supreme Court justices. Klobuchar can use this issue to both demonstrate the mayor’s callowness and raise questions about his ability to beat Trump.
But she can do much more than just bring down Buttigieg. Klobuchar has slowly risen in the Iowa polls and is now solidly in fifth place. She should continue emphasizing that she is a Midwesterner who has beaten strong Republican opponents and won in the suburban and rural areas that Democrats need in 2020. She can argue she has not had to compromise her principles to do that; the most liberal and progressive interest groups have consistently given her high marks. Klobuchar should be “the progressive who can win,” and she has a strong case to make.
She can also pick a short fight with national front-runner Joe Biden. The point here would be subtle: Try to engage him on an issue over detail. Biden’s debate performances have been unsteady, to say the least, and he could easily stumble when asked to engage. Klobuchar, by contrast, is clearly able to debate a detailed point. This exchange may not make the evening news, but it could start to show Biden supporters that their man may not be up to the job while Klobuchar is.
The tortoise won that legendary contest with the mantra “slow and steady wins the race.” Klobuchar’s campaign thus far has taken that to heart. She has surpassed the flashier senatorial hare, California’s Kamala Harris, in Iowa polls and is steadily climbing upward. Klobuchar shouldn’t try to use the debate to leap ahead of her competitors, but if she keeps Buttigieg in her sights and plods forward, this plucky tortoise could start attracting more national attention soon.